'Out of the 50's, Into the 60's' Six Figurative Expressionists
This museum-worthy exhibition offers ample evidence that the ferment of New York art in the late 1950's and early 60's was not only due to the first stirrings of Color Field, Pop Art and Minimalism. Like the artists affiliated with those tendencies, the six painters here were shaken by the Big Bang of Abstract Expressionism, but each responded by raiding past figurative styles, seeking ways to combine nonrealistic representation with extremes of paint, material or color.Those extremes take different forms here, starting with the aggressive paint handling of Leon Golub and Lester Johnson (whose striking ochre painting of a man suggests Frankenstein in a black mood and a rain storm). In contrast is the lyrical exuberance of the abbreviated bodies, strong colors and sexual undertones of the work by Jan Müller and Bob Thompson.
The show is pocked with unusual, unfamiliar paintings, starting with three portraits and a self-portrait by Beauford Delaney, whose vivid colors and light-filled textures borrow directly from his own monochrome abstractions. Especially hallucinatory are the 1962 yellow and purple portrait of the dancer Bernard Hassell and a 1955 portrait of James Baldwin, suspended in a patchwork of color like a stylish king on a throne. Two other candidates for best in show are a paint- laden portrait of Gauguin by Red Grooms, which is full of mock-German-Expressionist fervor, and a searching, half-lit self-portrait by Thompson from the mid 1960's that is reminiscent of David Parks. It may be the winner, but it has plenty of competition.