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SUNDAY NOV 18 1956

Abstract Art Floods New Whitney Annual Exhibit
By EMILY GENAUER

What this country's artists need right now-but when have artists in what place not needed it?-is a buoy. Any kind of buoy: with a light, maybe, so they can observe their physical surroundings, or a bell, so they'll know where the shoals lie, or a whistle tootling their joy in self or even material. In any case, artists need something firm to hold on to and keep them afloat, even as they move with the tides. Otherwise, like the majority of those whose work is included in the newly opened Whitney Museum annual survey of contemporary American art, they'll be drowned at sea of mannerism.

[[image]]
Emily Genauer

Now this is not just a figure of speed. If ever I saw a lot of abstractions resembling a churning sea as it must look to a drowning man caught in a whirlpool, they're at the Whitney now. Mind you, many of the pictures are quite handsome. It's their terrible sameness I object to.

A critic long familiar with the work of both can spot the slight difference between a landscape by one academic artist and that by another. In the same way a critic who knows intimately the work of today's abstractionists will be able to spot the difference between the labyrinthine linear towers Jimmy Ernst uses in his work and those of Seymour Fogel; between the color patches applied like an avalanche sweeping across the canvas by Lee Krassner, and those similarly used by Pietro Lazzari or Ernest Briggs; between the filaments of color gathered into a central core by Philip Guston, and those devised by Seymour Drumlevitch or Kyle Morris. 

Nature or a Style?
In old-fashioned academic art one looked at nature through the transparent glass of a colorless personality. Today one looks through the opaque glass of a colorless personality and sees just a style. If you seek in art only the image of either nature of a style, that's all right. But if you're looking for a creative man's intensely individual view of the world, or himself, or even just the exciting possibilities he finds in manipulation color and shape, you'll find too much of what's hung at the Whitney Museum now as impersonal as what used to hang in the Academy in the old days.

Now there are represented in the exhibition artists who have found their buoys, styles so much themselves that it has sustained them through the years even as it has allowed for swinging with changing currents. There is space here to mention only a few of them. Ben Shahn is still the taut, concentrated Ben Shahn, for all the new decorative lightness of his "Man with Wildflowers." William Thon has refined his "Paestem" almost to the point of abstraction, but this is still the romantic, texture-loving Thon. Manfred Schwartz, in his "Cafe Facade," uses color that is fresher than ever before, and composition which, being more concentrated, has greater impact, but he's still the artist who looks at the commonplace things of street or shop window, and sees them in a sort of ritual dance. Prestopino, who used with such gusto to paint trolley cars and street scenes, has made his "Morning," picture of a street with vegetable pushcart, a virtually abstract arrangement of tender color, but the result still spells the warm, lively emotional response the artist has always felt to simple things. There are several other of whom it might be said that the more they change the more they are the same thing: Kurt Seligmann, for instance, Karl Knaths, Kay Sage, Lee Gatch, Rice Pereira, Carl Morris, Herbert Katzman, Jack Levine, Stephen Greene, William Congdon, Philip Evergood.

Suit of One's Own
Is all this to say that an artist may not radically change his style, the way Picasso did? Of course not. It's to suggest, merely, that unless he's a genius, like Picasso, who can invent new styles overnight or dig up old ones in art histories or museums and so invest them with his own dynamic imagination that they remain forever his, he'd do better to dress himself in his own personality and alter the garment if he finds new modes that please and suit him, than to acquire the chic short-lived, ready-made outfits styles by the art world's theoreticians.

Now there are attractive abstractions in the new Whitney exhibition, with some of the beat contributions coming from Murray Jones, Hugh Mesibov, Kenzo Okada, Gabor Peterdi, Richard Poussette-Dart (double-check this one), Charles Shaw, Theodoros Stamos, Victor Candell, Reuben Tam, William Brice. It's just that they're so discouragingly like the work by artists, also in the show, who have imitated them.

That's one of the maddening things about abstract painting. Working in this style as an artist has to have enormous individuality--like a Mondrian, or a Jackson Pollock--to be able to evolve an idiom no other artist can easily imitate without immediately broadcasting that he is an imitator. This isn't a value judgment, mind you. I look for more than individuality in a picture. But it's the one thing without which there can be nothing. And the only place for the artist to find it is within himself, not in the canvases of everybody else. The artist who does not automatically rule out of his composition all highly personal association, references, memories and ideas needn't strain so hard. These are his own, and none can lift them. An arrangement of color areas, a use of line, a handling of surface--they're something else again, and free for the lifting.

[[image]]
Portrait by Vickrey, in Whitney Museum annual show.

For the record let it be noted that there's sculpture in this year's Whitney annual (for some years the practice has been to hold separate painting and sculpture shows), but that little of it is rewarding. Among the exceptions are David Hare's excellent "Man Standing," a further step in this clever abstractionist's recent return to the human figure; William Zorach's most sensitive "Young Woman"; Noguchi's enigmatic but arresting "The Ring." And there are only about ten drawings, nearly all of which are superb. Hyman Bloom's rather Gothic "The Beggar," Peter Takal's "Profile of a City," as economical in line but as expressive as something done by the ancient Chinese, and Roszak's big baroque "Spider Woman" are, for me, highspots.

Neglected Old-Timer Stages Comeback

Twenty-two years ago, in the gallery then owned by Marie Harriman, now the Governor's Lady, there was an exhibition of paintings by Oscar Bluemner. It was a show I reviewed with great enthusiasm and never forgot, though the artist did not again exhibit alone in New York, and in 1938 committed suicide.

This week the James Graham Gallery opened a Bluemner show, and I was reminded of the famous las line in the Willa Cather short story, the line that went something like "One doesn't want to have been an utter fool, even at twenty."

Well now I see I wasn't a fool (wasn't twenty, either, but skip that). Bluemner was, as I remember all these years, an exceptional painter, and further, his best things were the late ones, the ones Mrs. Harriman exhibited and I knew. He had been an architect, and his earlier canvases (like "Silktown on the Passaic") for all their exceptional vividness and clarity of color, tended toward a mechanical almost blueprint sort of composition (an exception is a little gem dated 1914 and called "Emotional Reconstruction of a N.J. Place," which is better than most early Legers).

But in his later works he simplified has masses to the point where they are all pulsing color. For a time they were start to the point of being postery. Then he modulated his color, securing with it a true synthesis of nearly abstract form and emotional expressiveness. At his best ("Red House in J. J.," "Summer Night" and "Black by Fold") Bluemner must now, surely, be recognized as one of the purest and best talents of the formative days of modern American art, the peer, certainly, of such men as Arthur Dove.

More Art News and Advertising on Page 18

new oils
Edith 
BLUM
opening nov. 19
HARRY SALPETER GALLERY
42 EAST 57 ST.

A MEMORIAL EXHIBITION
OF
PORTRAITS
BY
AUGUST BENZIGER
THE NATIONAL ARTS CLUB
15 Gramercy park, New York City
NOV. 18th THROUGH NOV. 29th
(Daily Including Sunday) (From 12-6 P.M.)
ADMISSION FREE

Paintings of 
BALI
GLADYS ROCKMORE
DAVIS
OPENING
TUESDAY
MIDTOWN
17 EAST 57 ST., N.Y.

MMA TALENT CHOICE
CLERK
THE NEW GALLERY 
601 MADISON AVE.
NOV. 19 - DEC. 1

EXHIBITION
FRENCH
MASTERS
thru Dec. 15
·
FINDLAY
GALLERIES
11 East 57
Leger
Vuillard
Modigliani
Rousult
Chagoli
Moore
Raoul Dufy
Derain
Van Gogh
Monet
Pissarro
Corot
Redon
Boudin
Courbet

X
HOSIASSON
first american exhibit
KOOTZ GALLERY
1019 Madison Ave. at 79
X
Through Dec. 1
BIRD, BEAST
And BLOSSOM
Paintings · Drawings · Sculpture
WELLONS GALLERY
17 East 64 Street

New Paintings by
ETNIER
Thru Nov. 24
MILCH GALLERIES
55 E. 57, N.Y.

N A
NATIONAL ACADEMY OF DESIGN
Special Exhibition
CONTEMPORARY GRAPHIC ARTS AND WATERCOLORS
Through December 2
1-6 P.M. Daily including Sundays--(Closed Thanksgiving Day)
Admission Free
1083 FIFTH AVENUE (89TH TO 90TH ST.)

NOV. 20-JAN. 7
ART TREASURES 
FOR A 
SMALL MUSEUM
Benefit exhibition
7th ANNIVERSARY 
Staten Island Institute
of Arts and Sciences 
Meltzer Gallery, 38 Wst 57

JOSEF SCHARL
Memorial Exhibition 
GALERIE ST. ETIENNE
46 West 57 St. Nov. 17-Dec. 15

DOWNTOWN FALLERY
32 East 51st Street
STUART
DAVIS
New Paintings

NUDE
IN PAINTING
WILDENSTEIN
19 EAST 64

Selection: 20th Century
FRENCH ART
Sidney Janis 15 E 57

American & French Masters:
MARY CASSAT    RENOIR
MILTON LUNIN    ANDRE
S. MOLDOVAN    SOUTINE
M. BECKER     MODIGLIANI
and others
HARTERT GALLERIES
22 E 58 ST.

HERALD TRIBUNE BOOK REVIEW--NOVEMBER 18, 1956  SEVENTEEN, PART I


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