New York

Sam Francis

Gagosian Gallery

Sam Francis is one of those famous but not so famous artists of the ’50s and ’60s; he might merit one or two passing slides in a lecture course on postwar American art, but he’s hardly a likely subject for an essay question on the final exam. Comfortable neither in the Abstract Expressionist nor in the postpainterly camps, Francis’ work doesn’t offer much to get worked up over; there are no ideologies to contest or defend, save that which would affirm the value of unadulterated painterly free play. Otiose and complacent, his painterly distensions relax on the wall. The effect is kind of nice, like Matisse on valium.

Historicizing categories can be deceptive, but these paintings—rather amusingly titled the “Blue Balls” series—confirm an impression of Francis as a liminal or transitional painter. Particularly fond of combining brushy gestural effects and haphazard splattering with dematerialized

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