New York

Jules Olitski

Knoedler Contemporary Art

According to Hilton Kramer, Jules Olitski, the sculptor, “belongs to the new wave of sculptors who concentrate their attention on low-lying forms that hug the floor beneath our feet.” The idea of announcing anything like a “new wave” is bad enough; when it concerns an idea which has appeared in a lot of strong and disparate work for the past ten years, it is ludicrous. The artists responsible are very visible; most visible are Andre, Judd, Morris, Serra, and a number of others. I like Kramer’s writing and respect him in many ways, but his N.Y. Times review of Olitski’s recent sculpture reflects a consistent failure to recognize or understand the significant American sculpture of the last decade.

Olitski’s earlier sculpture, like his two-dimensional work, was spray-painted. The work has improved; he is now using other sculptors’ ideas. The four pieces in this exhibition are variations on the theme of low-lying concentric circles, the most frequent variation being changes in the levels and tilts of the circles. The weakest piece is a relatively high circular form with a slightly smaller one beneath it which functions like a base, and another circle and opening inside. It suggests a large, abstract planter. Two others are closer to the ground: in one the concentric circles make parallel shifts in height while in the other the shifts are opposed. In both, the several circles are thick, broad-topped forms which suggest the curving welded shapes of Ferber and Lipton. The steel in each piece has a different surface which self-consciously suggests the patinas of older sculpture. The best piece in the exhibition consists of two concentric circles of sheets of steel. It is a weak replica of a piece almost identical in size which Don Judd did for the Guggenheim International almost three years ago, and also suggests less specifically pieces done by Morris and Serra. Olitski probably did not see the Judd, which was also reproduced in this magazine, but the similarity is too close and too instructive to pass unnoticed. The differences are, of course, also great. The main point of the Judd piece was that the top edge of the inside circle was level while the top edge of the outside circle paralleled the Guggenheim’s ramp. The circles also referred to the Guggenheim’s spiral, although Judd has also done similar concentric squares and circles on slopes outdoors. The piece reflects a clear specific idea and a profoundly different attitude toward sculpture developed by Judd and other artists during the ’60s. The Olitski piece involves none of this thinking although it superficially attempts the attitude. It is on level ground; the circles’ heights vary arbitrarily and artistically; it is just another piece of sculpture. The title of this work is Redemption Secret.

Roberta Smith