Los Angeles

Manny Farber

Ruth S. Schaffner Gallery

Manny Farber exhibits large, nameless abstractions of collaged paper which give the impression, at least, of having been soaked in dye. The resulting blotches and streaks are “natural,” rather funky, and process-conscious, in contrast to the crisp and sometimes unexpected geometric profiles of the pieces. In most of the works, also, freely swirled streaks or ruled lines of paint act as a foil to the “natural” rhythm and design of the coloring process these are the more interesting pieces.

Farber has been teaching in Southern California since 1970, and shares the local feeling for orchidaceous color; all but two of the abstractions are in what could best be described as easter-egg hues—magenta, baby blue, violet, and that peculiarly vivid pale yellow-orange. The first of the exceptions is a large, brown rectangle with the upper corners rounded and without the lines or swirls of paint to give it energy; the result is bland. (Nameless as they are, a method of reference has had to be agreed upon by the gallery, and for the La Jolla Museum retrospective in May—this one, for obvious reasons, has been dubbed The Potato.) The second, three circles with the tops joined, is more interesting. Grimly industrial, a whitewash covers the dull brown paper, eddying like a skin of pollution over water. The left side is blackened as though by smoke, and thinly ruled blue lines play against fierce red lines as though a blueprint had suddenly turned lethal.

In the largest piece exhibited, a rectangle titled simply The Mural, a robin’s-egg blue ground fades unevenly toward the edges to violet. The pasted overlap where the smaller sheets of paper have been joined to create a larger surface provides a subtle grid which plays against the rhythm of the coloring process. In this work the streaks of paint are most noticeable, most Pollock-like and, as in Pollock, give the mural an energy which other of the pieces would profit from. This is the most successful of the abstractions; in it, Farber must have felt that he had worked this particular vein to its conclusion, for it’s the last he painted of the sequence.

In 1973 he moved instead into representation. In these later works toys, candy and draftsman’s tools tumble across the shallow picture plane to create a kind of figurative abstraction.

The shallow plane, a concern with texture and loose patterning and an eye for subtle color relationships (here, often, in pastels) tie these to the earlier work—but only once we know their genealogy. The draftsmanship is pleasant, if in some cases overly reminiscent of Oldenburg, and it’s amusing to see toy trains and tin soldiers, lollypops and Hershey bars tumbling themselves into such AE configurations. But ultimately these works are simply too lightweight as a progression from the earlier abstractions.

Bjorn Rye