New York

Darryl Hughto

There are, I think, two very different kinds of modernist painting. Critical exuberance (or blindness) has kept them together for years, so that we feel a kinship between them where none exists. One kind is rationally structured, with brilliant and arbitrary color—the taut, severe works of Newman, and early Stella and Noland. The second group is recognizably slick and ingratiating. Hilton Kramer has succinctly called it the marriage of anarchy and decoration (in the pejorative sense of the word) in the works of Pollock. And Pollock and Olitski are the celebrated masters here. Their work, giving the least possible visual resistance, has spawned the large group of lyrical abstractionists: Bush, Christensen, Dzubas, to Wofford and Zox. Now, to this group, add Darryl Hughto.

It is impossible to overlook the fact that the hard-core Greenberg devotees have been these artists’ most enthusiastic supporters. That alone is highly suspect, but the work itself elicits a strange melancholy in its somewhat naive faithfulness which transcends suspicion. Modernism’s latest darling laboriously recycles minute differences between family members: a little polygon from Ron Davis and late Noland; a slap of shiny resin from Bannard; dry brush handling from the Canadian loyalists; bathroom pastels from everyone. There is a formulistic incestuousness in these large, loosely collaged references which is rather sad.

It is probably more interesting to conjecture about the kind of defense which would surround Hughto’s work, rather than bothering with the painting itself. Modernist painters used to rely heavily on a small coterie of modernist critics for intellectual substance and formal backbone. But that clique has gone on to the universities and museums, where it no longer needs to justify its tastes logically, or explain its preferences to peers, or rationalize its purchases to the interested public. Without the crucial verbal support and the trial by discourse, what can we make of this painting that will not expose it as yet more stillborn offspring?

Jeff Perrone