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Report from the Front

Art criticism, sometimes with context, occasional politics. New shows: "events;" how to support the online edition: "works."



One of hottest shows in town is also the inaugural exhibition of a new gallery, making a double reason to celebrate. Ann Freedman, formerly director at Knoedler’s, has opened her own gallery at 25 East 73rd Street, FreedmanArt. Her inaugural exhibition is “Jules Olitski: Embracing Circles," (through July, maybe August). This exhibition, on the 3rd floor of the building, presents ten good-sized, brilliantly-colored paintings (Magna on canvas) executed between 1959 and 1963, and only recently rediscovered. During the period covered by these paintings, Olitski had only recently evolved out of the dark, heavily-impastoed paintings that had so impressed Clement Greenberg in the artist’s 1958 show at Iolas; he seems to have begun experimenting with the “post-painterly abstraction” that was to earn him wider fame in the ‘60s.

As such, these paintings mark a transition, and the most heartening aspect of this show is its way of documenting the artist’s evolution, from perhaps a little bit tentative to masterful. All the paintings depict one or two large circles, floating upon fields of contrasting colors, and frequently with smaller circles inside the larger ones. Initially, the circles are irregular, with edges composed of small flat or slightly-curved sides, strung together. These earlier canvases are also completely covered with paint, creating the impression that the primer was used (whether or not it actually was is not clear to me, but the impression is of opacity not transparency). Gradually, the circles become more smoothly rounded & regular, while the last two paintings in the sequence, both dated 1963, show small areas of raw canvas: the paint has been stained in (without primer) – following a practice that Louis, Noland and Frankenthaler had been using for some time. These latest paintings look like the works from the early ‘60s that Olitski is known for. In fact, one, “Patutsky Passion,” built around a good-sized black circle embraced by an arc of bright red, is a kissing cousin to “The Prince Patutsky–Red,” which appears on the jacket front of “Clement Greenberg: A Critic’s Collection.” Some of the earlier paintings in the show are also powerful, including “Medusa Pleasure” (1962) and especially “Fair Charlotte” (1961), which has delightfully offbeat color combinations (golden field, with circles in deep blue, purple, pink, black and green).

A larger Olitski show, covering a broader period in his career, is circulating in 4 out-of-town museums. For details, see "Events."
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