New York

Albert E. Gallatin

Zabriskie Gallery

Paintings by Albert E. Gallatin from the ’30s were shown in November at the Zabriskie Gallery. For the purpose of the exhibition “the ’30s” meant 1936–40, simply because Gallatin was doing Realist painting for the ten years before that. When you come down to it, the period covered was really 1936–39, except for one collage that wasn’t finished by New Year’s. I mention this because it may indicate the beginnings of an overenthusiasm that we could do without. It is true that a lot of decent American modernist painting got overlooked. But we can already sense the beginnings of an indiscriminate antiquarianism, a pure salesroom fashion not unlike that for so-called Depression glass. Depression glass, for anyone in the dark, is not made by a special mold process. It is simply junk glassware whose only claim to rarity is that plastics have driven it underground: the word “Depression” is used in the sense of 1929. Is “Depression painting” to be the next “collectable?”

I don’t intend to single Gallatin out in any way other than as a competent exemplar of the mode. But nobody stands outside history, and if I simply pointed out his relative virtues it might be fanning the flames of fashion as much as if I lumped him together with a half-dozen other artists, all equally “surprising” or “overlooked.”

In an interesting Collage (1936) newspaper and photo-illustration cuttings (suggestive somewhat of Heartfield) are attached to a background of leatherette. Too bad the phoniness of the leatherette is rubbed in so crudely in comparison with Braque, because the composition is appealing. Composition (1939) on plywood is perhaps less vulgar than the one with leatherette, probably because the plywood has a welcome hardness and planarity even more than the solid wood which its outer layer “represents.” Against this ground, and loosely centered in a lozenge, is an overlapping cluster of planes, including two pieces of corrugated cardboard (a material similar to plywood in its strengthening by physical reconstitution), one of these being developed at one end by a concave, semicircular cut into a Cubist/illusionistic cylinder motif; both pieces of cardboard are fastened with REAL THUMBTACKS! More engaging than any of this is a small stencilled motif at the bottom of the lozenge, a feature welcome for its identification of actual with represented flatness. One amusing object by Gallatin is a “Numero Diez” cigar box carefully rebuilt by the artist into a trapezoidal shape with a rendition of Picasso’s Three Musicians on the cover and a little Gallatin inside. I don’t quite get the point—neither the “Numero Diez,” nor cigars, nor the Three Musicians, has any discoverable connection with the Constructivistic composition inside—but it is entertaining.

There are competent and pleasing works by Gallatin, like the Puristic Composition (1937), which was shown along with a smaller study for it. But by and large the whole enterprise is derivative in the most joyless way. Instead of trying to settle the ’30s score with Europe, why don’t we all sit down and agree that the decade was a slump, something like the present day but more drab?

––Joseph Masheck