New York

Manny Farber

O.K. Harris Gallery

Manny Farber has mounted one of this season’s most important one-man exhibitions in his scurvy-walled yet freshly painted white studio on Warren Street. The white scruffiness, grey painted floors and iron columns add much to the exhibition’s strong effect. One should have gathered from last year’s Whitney Annual—in which Farber showed a pinkish skin-like oval painting push-pinned directly to the wall—that Farber was up to something challenging. The maturity of his work is amazing and, although the pictures shown in Warren Street are the product of only the last three months work, they have the certainty open only to a thoroughly evolved style, and one that was long in growing. I have been aware of Farber’s painting only since the most recent Whitney Annual, although on nosing around I learned that the career extends back to the patronage of Peggy Guggenheim and the colleague enthusiasm of Jackson Pollock. In short, the artist who is widely read as a hefty idiosyncratic film critic, is no kid. And it shows.

Farber paints — sometimes just moves — highly liquid acrylics on and across butcher-brown wrapping paper. The paper is folded, smoothed out, joined, scored, creased, patched, pasted, cut—in short, carpentered. The fields of color and the papery grounds are thin, bark-like affairs and, unlike the case of so many young artists perhaps thirty years Farber’s junior, there is nothing green or adolescently fashionable about his work. The surfaces vary from matte to glossy depending on the dilution of the acrylic and the surface which may have been drawn off from it, such as plastic sheeting, not to speak of the artist’s volition. With rare exception, the pictures deal in time-honored formats—Braque-like ovals pinned in the horizontal axis (the artist says “football-shaped”), trapezoidal figures long side down or vertical rectangles bisected into two fields of varied and contrasting activities and effects. The effects tend to highly nuanced color generally of a monochromatic thrust (though built from many hues. and textures): liverish reds, leathery browns, inky blues, speckled green-greys, imprecisions altered through scrim overlays and sere, micrometrically thin passages, thickenings, clots, folds and pools. The feel of the color is tender but never simpering or estheticizing in the sense, say, of Kenzo Okada (who might be pointed to as a source for the style). Bold interplays of luminous color within the unit are eschewed. The absence of this Stella-like color is one of the reasons that the pictures demand a freshness of eye for apprehension. Nor does the color refer to the optical shimmer of the white light and. plastic radiance of the California boys. Intriguingly enough, this disembodied color makes no reference to Olitski either, which may be its most curious achievement. The color in fact is as classically focused as the format and only the perverse would refuse to admit its Mediterranean bias and mottled nostalgia. Despite their certain quality—perhaps the final works in a closed development—the pictures still manage new possibilities. The last work, slung over a horizontally hung tube, admits of a structural and dimensional option heretofore unexplored.

Robert Pincus-Witten