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Focus: “Franz Kline: Black & White, 1950–1961”

The Menil Collection

“You instinctively like what you can’t do,” Franz Kline said in a 1958 interview, referring to the precise yet ethereal style of Fra Angelico. Like many other statements of the period, Kline’s remark was probably coaxed forth by the interviewer (in this case, Frank O’Hara) and may even be an invention. Yet it holds true to the painter. Kline wanted what he couldn’t do. He desired the kind of difficulty he didn’t experience in the world outside the studio, where things generally came easy to him. Everyone liked Kline: he had great looks, an engaging manner, effortless charm and wit. He was Kline the “affable” (I quote the first adjective used to describe him in a 1952 Artnews feature). The painter himself couldn’t be satisfied with an analogous ease in art, one of his many “natural” talents. It must be significant that Kline was a child survivor of a father’s suicide. Perhaps he was compelled

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