New York

Adolph Gottlieb

Marlborough | Midtown

Adolph Gottlieb’s first one-man show in New York since 1967 rounds out the series we’ve seen this fall of new paintings by major Abstract Expressionists. Despite his recent serious illness his familiar images—the blasts or burst and the imaginary landscape—look stronger than they have in many years. He has even broken with his expected vertical format to create a huge horizontal triptych. The usual system is to bisect the canvas horizontally into broad areas of nuanced ground. He then activates one or both sides of this separation with sky or earth symbols. Gottlieb’s retinal color operates to full advantage in configurations which oppose the heat of red, pink, orange, and brown to the tonal temperature drops of black, blue, and gray. Between the figure and the ground he often employs the mediation of a vibrating halo or encircling textured area which simulates the effect of a halo. This pushes the shapes forward and prevents them from making holes in the surfaces. Irregularities around the edges operate similarly. Both occur in Rising, which has the delicate synoptical strength of an oriental hanging scroll.

Gottlieb is the only Abstract Expressionist who has attempted to work with simple object-ground dichotomies. He depends on the opticality of his color, precise placement, and small textural distinctions. Each of his paintings generates the sensation of having coalesced spontaneously into place. Yet when you look over his entire output in a catalogue or a retrospective it seems repetitive. A painting like Red vs. Blue, for instance, is amazingly close to Red, Blue, Yellow of 1966. The question of Abstract Expressionist improvisation presents a similar problem when a study for a painting by Franz Kline is compared to its large, final version. Practically every drip and dash is identical.

The beautifully painted canvases of Miró seem to have had a direct influence on Gottlieb’s work. He added large scale and eliminated complexity, but when his work is seen concurrently with the large Miró show at the Guggenheim Museum their relationship looks very close indeed. If one of the large, late, blue Miró’s were shown in the context of his Marlborough exhibition it would surely be taken for a Gottlieb. Of course, there’s always the possibility of a reciprocal influence of Gottlieb on Miró which shouldn’t be discounted. Of all the Abstract Expressionists, Gottlieb is probably the most connected with the School of Paris.

––April Kingsley