New York

Philip Wofford

David Whitney Gallery

Philip Wofford’s exhibition is so beautiful that it little matters just how much Olitski and Poons there is in these paintings. The central issue for Wofford is the fat field as it has emerged so brilliantly and rapidly these past two years. The pictures, with their vivid and dense impastoes, sudden shifts from sheer evanescence to bulky clot and crust, are sensuously dizzying and satisfying. In addition to the highly variegated surface and private range of geyser-like, soft colors, Wofford employs a very tricky kind of canvas shaping. Edges arc, sway, shrink back—but only just slightly, so as to make it possible to avoid reading the perimeter as a shape (and possibly as an object) but just enough to make it clear through this obliquity that an arena of sensitization has been demarcated. The paintings are almost rectangular fields—but never in any stringent geometrical sense.

Wofford’s color is lovely (rushing swathes, spatterings of pigment, as well as extraneous dirt and matter), although a reliance on the whitened flood introduces analogies to Poons and Olitski which are perhaps too sensible. That the fattest of the incidents tends to occur at the edges indicates still another clue from Olitski. Still, the deepest affiliations of this kind of painting were pointed to at the most recent Whitney Annual, at which the attractiveness of the fat field was divulged in many quarters—Landfield, Poons, Ruda, even a most remarkable Pousette-Dart. Wofford’s painting there was hung beside a recent de Kooning. The de Kooning took on an appearance which would never have been guessed at a generation ago—an appearance similar to that which late Manet bears to Impressionism or late Degas to Intimism. Wofford and his many colleagues point to de Kooning as a fat field painter avant la lettre and in so doing, Darby Bannard’s contentions concerning the natural painterly aspirations of de Kooning (Artforum, April, 1969) have been justified just that much more.

Robert Pincus-Witten