New York

Jim Dine

Whitney Museum, Sonnabend Gallery

Pop art soured after 1963. By the mid-’60s it became evident that the movement could no longer sustain itself, bold together out of sheer stylistic glue, so to speak, and those figures who were to occupy positions of second and third rank began to identify themselves one by one—or fall away to nothingness. The artists of the movement sought out other modes of expression—some achieving a production of equal vigor, others, not. Rauschenberg, whose contributions were and are immense, opted for intermedia “technology”— a production often of a staggering dullness. Jasper Johns confirmed what had been hinted at all along—that his many strengths were those of a major graphic artist. Andy Warhol made emphatic his role as intermedia entrepreneur and filmmaker. George Segal continued to produce as before—cast relics of human desolation. Roy Lichtenstein stayed abreast of current taste for Arts Déco and Depression ephemera, intensifying the fad as he was in turn affected by it. James Rosenquist made serious contributions toward pictorialized sculpture. Oldenburg also contributed to this evolution, preempting at the same time a lion’s share of esteem. Wesselmann, Indiana, Marisol, Ray Johnson, so many others—evaporations. And Jim Dine? No longer bolstered by a broad-based style or public approbation, Dine emerges as an engaging, talented painter whose popularizations follow so closely upon authentic achievements as to make it appear that they had been his all along.

The early work demonstrates to what degree Dine had been indentured to Rauschenberg and Johns and his sharing of aspirations with Oldenburg in terms of street art in the late 1950s and early ’60s. These earliest works, with their sordid and touching surfaces, are Dine’s strongest and most lyrical efforts. From Rauschenberg came the “real” industrially fabricated element affixed to an “art” surface of pigment and canvas. From Johns, a feel for rich word and image interchanges and the confirmation too that seeming painterliness could be predicated on traditional drawing values. Oldenburg also had been confirmed by Johns in this respect. And the grimy, matérielle-at-hand collage and Happening contributed a frank transitional note from Abstract Expressionism. My heart goes to the works of the early 1960s—Hair, Shoe and Green Ties in a Landscape—a richly impastoed monochromism after Johns. Like early Cézanne repainting his way through Monet, Dine is a touchingly awkward Johns. By 1963, the tangible object is out in full flourish—garden implements, bathroom fixtures—and from here on all becomes stylish permutation. The fortyish surrogate persona—the bathrobe—emerges and the heart motif, too—love, his wife, hairy snatch, as indicated by several studies and prints.

What is so curious about these thematic symbols are not that they devolve about Rauschenberg, Johns or Oldenburg, but that Magritte has been shaken down—particularly in those Dines which incorporate the symbol of the axe or hatchet, mostly the arresting aluminum sculptures of 1965, The Red Axe and The Hammer Doorway.

Between 1962 and 1966, Dine had been psychoanalyzed; in 1968, expatriated. These biographical tantalizers are hurriedly given in a brief autobiographical paragraph. They raise vital questions concerning the focus of the psychoanalysis—as well as the effects of the displacement. Did he work with a Freudian, a Jungian, a Sullivanian, a Rogerian? This experience demands long discussion if only to get at the meaning of the symbol to the artist—that is, their functioning in his neurotic pattern and, in this way, to divulge their inspirational sense, if any. Expatriation seems important because it is accompanied by such Etruscan decline. What was jejune in New York still passed muster in London. Emerge the monumental straw and chicken wire hearts, the free assemblages of studio configuration. That they are knock-offs of Sonnier, Saret and company, and possibly, too, of the tactile assemblages of Samaras, bespeaks the acuteness of the artist’s transatlantic antennae.

A broad view of a focused theme in Dine’s recent work was facilitated by a companion exhibition at the Sonnabend Gallery. The theme is the Studio, as realized in several large canvases and various accumulations. The canvases were smudged freely with purple patches of various colors. In front of them, on the floor, were arranged selections of carpenter’s, plumber’s and electrical tools, ribbons and rags, and studio implements. These studio theme pictures, like the earlier palette series of 1963, are in the debt of Johns’s studio pictures. Interspersed are ubiquitous hearts as carefree as Warhol flowers. The motif underscores Dine’s conflict between the emotional association of the motif and the abstract “meaning” of the substance out of which it is made—straw, wire, cloth, paint, wood. In Dine’s work the symbol is all flux and spontaneity, the substance all turgid and fixed, in its concentration more “literary” than the symbol. This, despite its dernier cri all-over floor distribution, anti-verticality, aleatory structure and sup- port, “new materials“ and impulsivity. The combines never become “objectified,” “factual,” “empirical data.” They remain a confessional window display—a stage setting which continues to represent the heroic first years of the Reuben Gallery and the Happening.

Robert Pincus-Witten