At the comparatively narrow entrance were three good-sized Frankenthalers from three different decades. Then the walls open out to a bigger space, with two large paintings by Morris Louis, one “veil” and one an “unfurled,” together with two smaller vertical “stripe” paintings; two large transitional paintings by Poons and three good-sized stain paintings by Olitski.
Noland got a private alcove of his own, with three “targets” (two early, one late), plus one narrow horizontal stripe painting, while the solitary Motherwell, a narrow vertical variant on his “open” series, hung at the end of the narrow hallway leading to the office. The illustrated checklist also included a number of other paintings, but it’s not my policy to review work that isn’t out there for the public to view.
As I say, the show as a whole was a knockout, proud testimony to a glorious moment in art history, but every critic will have her own favorites, and these were mine: First, Frankenthaler’s “First Blizzard” (1957), a bewitchingly active canvas, almost covered with narrow blue, black and rust-colored strokes and drips – testimony to what huge energy that woman had.
Also Frankenthaler’s “Orange Breaking Through” (1961), built around a manic yellowy-orange “V” in the center, complemented by a whiplash black square with blue accents and surrounded by much soothingly bare canvas.
The Louis “unfurled” was called “Delta Phi” (1960). It was very nearly a perfect example of that image, and, though the colors (orange blue green and yellow) weren’t too offbeat, they harmonized with each other like fine music.
The “veil” was “Saf Gimel”(1959). The vigor of its color contrasts – with gaudy but gorgeous oranges below and somber blues and blacks above -- rendered it atypical compared to most veils I’ve seen. That only indicates it may have stayed in the studio and not been exhibited until more recently.
The best Olitski was “Patutsky Passion” (1963) The artist employed “Patutsky” or “Patusky” in a number of titles throughout his lifetime (referring to a nickname that his stepfather gave him as a child). This one had a green field, a large white oval commanding the center, and smaller forms within the center oval (red, green and black).
It belonged to the same family of images as “The Prince Patutszky – Red” (1962), a painting that Olitski gave to Clement Greenberg – and that ornaments the front cover of “Clement Greenberg: A Critic’s Collection,” published by the Portland Art Museum and Princeton University Press.
The best Noland was the target “Spring Call” (1961), a subtle symphony of pinks and oranges, with touches of blue, white and a deeper center of red. And the two Poons paintings testify to what a star he already was in the 1960s, while he was just emerging from his coin-dot chrysalis.
“Little Sangre de Christo “(1964) was a commanding horizontal field of deep red upon which paler little ovals in mostly blues and greens were scattered. It’s very impressive, but I related more to the dynamics of the vertical “English Fields” (1968). Atop a mountainous orange field floated a central waterfall of pale, semi-transparent long and narrow blips of lime and yellow. Spectacular!
POSTSCRIPT: I've put this whole review in the past tense because when I revisited the show with visiting fireman David Evison today, the large Motherwell was gone and although a similar smaller one had been substituted, it had more of a casual than a commanding presence.
More importantly, some of these paintings were about to travel to the Yares booth in the big Basel-type art shows that occupy the first week of December . I have no idea what will replace them, either temporarily or permanently, but whoever it is that picks out the art for this gallery clearly has a very fine eye, so whatever is on view should be well worth seeing.