New York

Kenneth Noland

Leo Castelli Gallery Uptown

Gradually abandoning the neat congruence of subject and form that characterized his rectangular work, Kenneth Noland now offers an exhibition of multi-sided, irregularly shaped paintings in which there’s not a single right angle. The move has a feel of exultant liberation from a well-explored type of pictorial space.

The color, typical of Noland, burns at a low flame; areas of color appear flat and opaque like different colored objects. The eye moves, in these paintings, from one color area to the next, each area reacting with its neighbor in sequence, but rarely with an area at the other end of the painting, because no two pairs of colors refer to the same coordinates. The shape of each area determines one portion of the edge of the painting. Often in his striped paintings, Noland’s bands resonated optically with the other bands and the edges. The color areas in these new paintings are noticeably un-harmonic. They are handsome and intelligent objects, but they are not yet vital explorations of the new kind of space their anti-rectangularity implies.

Splay reminded me very much of Matisse’s Dance. Noland achieves the same effect of a group of pink and pastel elements seeming to all but move in a circle in a field of green. It is his most effective exploitation of the new format in the show. An irregular polygon like Splay is a relatively unstable graphic statement compared to a rectangle. The rectangle affirms the position of its center in its edges and orients itself (generally) by echoing the room’s horizontals and verticals. An irregular polygon “conceals” its center (the mathematical problem for finding it involves logarithms, I believe) and its position on the wall (vis à vis the wall’s edges) is not so conveniently verified. To this inherently ambiguous situation Noland adds four boomerang-shaped areas of color around the edges that further destabilize the picture and seem to suggest circular motion in an abstract but no less effective way than Matisse’s figures suggest it in his painting.

Ross Skoggard