New York

Dan Christensen, Peter Young, William Crozier, David Budd, and Jo Baer

Emmerich Gallery, Goldowky Gallery

I suppose that what we see in Dan Christensen’s new work must be regarded as an attempt not to fall into the effusive and lyric mannerisms of color painting as it approached the end of the decade. But, in avoiding the pitfalls of “thick field” and “lyrical abstraction” I am uncertain as to whether Christensen has not fallen into still another kind of trap. In the past year Christensen has articulated a color painting which is frankly submissive to traditional field presentation. Frontal, planar, tectonically structured, Christensen’s paintings today are as radically opposed to his own work of two years back as is possible only to the most ungenerous and academic reading of Art and Culture. There is nothing wrong with Greenbergian esthetics which more than anything else insists upon the art object as “art” and isolated from quotidian flux. What seems to me to be wrong is not the advocacy of the argument but that Christensen himself is an unconvincing supporter. His new paintings, large and of contrasted opacities, appear to me to be without serious interest other than as a political maneuver vis-à-vis the expressionist enthusiasms of recent field painters. In short, Christensen links up with figures like Bush or Hoyland in whose work the color is simply not as good or as strong as the argument behind their painting.

Certain of these down reactions to Dan Christensen’s work were confirmed at a group selection made by Richard Bellamy for the smaller and less prepossessing Noah Goldowsky Gallery. Here, Christensen’s vertical and horizontal compositions seemed somewhat stronger if only because the lower ceiling and more compressed space established architectural reference points which are harder of access at the Emmerich Gallery, although such effects, in the end, are extraneous to the objectives of Christensen’s painting. As I’ve suggested, the new Christensens are about differences in opacity. The canvas surface is held by a shiny vertical line of differing reflective potential than the rest of the rectangles. This brighter stripe more than any other aspect of his work declares Christensen’s affiliation with Barnett Newman. I suspect that the bands play the role of identifying the densest picture plane in the way that Greenberg had observed that painted words in collage-derived painting were a means of determining the ambiguous picture planes of Synthetic Cubism.

In the same exhibition one was able to further gauge the development of Peter Young’s work which, to my way of feeling, had gone awry in his recent beaded necklaces. It appears that there is now an enormous push for a kind of out-of-doors ecologically associative art. From the front the present works are negligent depictions of lattice-works and other hand-drawn geometrical figures. But the authentic interest lies in the rear, in the supports of the picture which are made of nicely interlocked hickory branches tightly dadoed together across which the canvas has been stretched and sewn. This Indian-like rucksack effect is novel in a paltry way and its affiliations with William Wiley’s sapling structures seem more than self-evident. But, I am insufficiently the Beuysscout to respond with sympathy.

A pair of identical bronze nudes by William Crozier was shown. I find tight representational figures in effigy scale repulsive although the rejection of the classical mound of Venus for a bluntly modeled female sex organ is perhaps a stab in favor of candor. My objection is not to the candor but to the quality of surface which has the halting constriction of an Odalisque modeled with a dentist’s drill. David Budd showed monochromatic curves applied in small and obsessive dabs. Jo Baer’s canvas frankly depicted a square within a square. Of all the works in the exhibition, this process of-selection, this finding of the right square and the right frame, seemed to be expressive of the most rigorous selectivity and sharpest taste.

Robert Pincus-Witten