Sunday, 22 November 2015

FRANK STELLA: 'A Retrospective' - The Whitney Museum 2015


I wrote briefly about the artist in 2007, unfortunately links to illustrations there are no longer valid. It is a perennial problem for web reference. The years have not softened my judgement however, nor has his subsequent work. I could have just replaced the obsolete links and republished it here with some slight amendment, but I’ve decided to expand upon the issues, in particular the transition from painting to sculpture, central to the artist’s development. I now think the problem runs much deeper, to the very notion of abstraction proposed by his first mature paintings.

General consensus finds the artist’s career sharply divided between early paintings of stripes and a subsequent pursuit of freewheeling sculpture. The first was rigorous, elegant and fashionable, the second not. The current survey is unlikely to alter this perception. It has been a career path from austerity to excess, from the avant-garde to tradition and ultimately anonymity. With more than forty years prolific output since the crucial split, if anything, it is his early achievements that are now diminished in scope and number. More than ever, Stella looks a precocious but slender talent. Sometimes it is kinder not to survey a long career, particularly one that has had ample exposure. To the artist’s credit, his preference was to show only his later works, urging a fresh perspective. But chief curator Adam Weinberg insisted upon work from the full span of his career, implicitly acknowledging prevailing sentiment and hedging against what would surely have been a less inviting show.

Somewhat as a compromise, the show occasionally intermingles the two phases of the work, as if to suggest they are merely options to the same expansive project. While this may soften the disappointment to later work slightly, it begs questions of consistency or coherence that are better understood chronologically. The fact is, the artist does not switch willy-nilly between opposing modes - indeed, could not have - but rather, advances smoothly and rapidly along a course exploiting the decorative aspect to abstraction in painting only to find these terms at cross purposes or gravely diminished by the exercise. Painting is more than decoration, decoration is greater than abstraction; abstraction is not always decorative or painting. The work is then just as rapidly sidelined by fatal compromise and contradiction. Appeals to some single expansive project are in vain. A sequential exposition at least allows the newcomer to understand how the artist came to make such puzzling changes. This review examines the artist’s formal progress a little closer, uses a broader array of examples than are included in the show, for the sake of clarity and convenience.

Stella’s entry point came in 1958, when he encountered the work of Jasper Johns and was struck by the approximate compliance of vigorous brushwork to various familiar designs, such as the American flag, a target and alphabet, the curious mixture of tolerance and indifference demonstrated. All were strictly two-dimensional as objects, the design often co-extensive with the picture plane or frame, yet not quite abstract as paintings – a dilemma for the dedicated abstractionist. Stella set himself the task of preserving the attitude but eliminating their concrete or direct reference. He concentrated on stripes and instead of the American flag sought to determine width and number according to paint consistency and size of brush, their direction according to picture shape or frame. Colour was restricted to monochrome at first and black soon became the set colour, partly as an inheritance from Abstract Expressionism (the artist was an admirer of Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline) partly to heighten the contrast with the bare – nominally off-white – canvas that remains as intervals or borders between stripes. These have no real equivalent in Johns and from the first are a way to isolate the individual stripe, to channel its execution. Initially, brushwork is much looser, more extroverted, the stripes more uneven, the borders much wider. But by 1959 Stella finds a stricter fit for his cursory brushwork against narrower, straighter, more symmetrical stripes. More stripes emphasise a pattern against which to exercise a somewhat restrained execution, a more taciturn expression.

From a distance the intervals read as slightly flickering thin white lines or ‘pinstripes’ as the series soon became known (the artist’s preferred name is Black Series). Significantly, the nickname annoyed the artist, since it immediately offers a concrete reference for the pattern. Ironically, the allusion to business suits proves prophetic for the artist’s substantial patronage in later years. The pinstripes measure the tolerance or fluctuation to a stripe, but such tolerance is now a niggling, nerdish thing, amounting to little more than a brisk trade-off between efficiency and accuracy. Facture has none of Johns’ lush and measured attention to a ‘fill’ or field; Stella’s household enamels grant application a thinner, more fluent stroke. Edges or intervals are not ‘cut’ in the house painter’s sense, or clean, but a single broad stroke registering little more than loading against surface. This is an extremely minimal version of gestural abstraction. And it is an equally minimal version of geometric abstraction, which is what creates the fuss. Stella is able to substitute stricter, biaxial symmetry for the irregular compositions of a Piet Mondrian or Kazimir Malevich for example, for the symmetrical compositions of a Mark Rothko or Barnett Newman, and the effect was often interpreted as a kind of denial or nihilism, a rejection of colour and shape relations at a brisk clip. Even now the effect is overwhelmingly stifling and arid. Yet while the artist is able to marshal greater pattern and lesser gesture in an impressive display of attitude, the pattern itself is then too strong or discernible to be an intrinsic quality of just the picture plane or properly abstraction. While stripes might coincide with the picture frame, they are not necessarily confined to it. The pattern extends indefinitely at the scale and colour demonstrated because it is just that: a pattern. In eluding concrete reference, Stella had eluded abstraction as well.

In 1960 he remedied this failing by introducing ‘shaped canvases’ to the work – in which the stretcher has more or less than four squared sides. Initially these shapings are small indentations to mostly the centre of a side or corner that maintain right angles. These are called the Notched series. Accompanying this, the artist switches to aluminium and copper particle paints, with their heightened reflectance and duly fluctuating colour, tracking an equally dogged application. The stripes maintain conspicuous symmetry and a similar width to intervals, although these seem less like pinstripes for the metallic coatings, which render the bare canvas as more of a fawn or beige. Pattern may be suitably confined or framed by such shapes, since they are hardly typical or frequent as painting, they project as edge or shape to pattern, but consequently do not really abstract pictures. They deal in shape on broader terms. The artist tries more extreme shaping, in the Copper Series (1960-1) in giant right angles or ‘L’s ‘U’s and a right-angled zigzag, but this only distances the pattern from pictures further, makes abstraction more a matter of sub-division of shape or properly design. In 1961 the artist briefly returned to a more conventional square stretcher for a series called Benjamin Moore, the name of a brand of commercial alkyds. These introduce vivid colour to stripes but still face the same problem. Other works from that year introduce a range of colours and tones including fluorescents, as more complex relations for stripes. But this only reduces the emphasis on execution further, flattens or smoothes brushwork and makes design or plan more intricate.

In 1963 shaped canvases proceed to more familiar polygons and allow hollows or holes to the centre of the shape, so that stripes trace a circuit in metallic purple around a hollow polygon. This series is called Purple. Titles now declare a ‘portrait’ of various art world figures of the day, such as Leo Castelli, Ileana Sonnabend and Charlotte Tokayer. Such mischievous titles have been in play since the Black series, where titles ranged from Horst Wessel’s notorious Nazi anthem, Die Fahne Hoch, to a place, Tomlinson Court Park, to the allegorical The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, flaunting remote allusion or an arbitrary pretension, defying a strictly formal reading. Yet this also tethers them to preceding abstraction, gestural and geometric, which was similarly drawn to musical and literary titles. The hollowed polygons deliberately void a standard picture plane, but again only make them about a certain shape and scale, rather than painting. As painting, they are closer to house painting or sign writing, of a fairly perfunctory order. As abstraction, they are mainly dealing in design or pattern, neither of which are necessarily a property of pictures or painting, anymore than novel coatings. The problem is still too much pattern for painting.

The artist then attempted to avoid such obvious pattern with more complex arrangements of stripes. In 1964 the most important examples are the Running V series, stretching to enormous widths and using metallic pigments. Here symmetry is inverted between left and right, top and bottom, while V-shaped notches to top and bottom are complemented by extrusions of the same angle but with flattened ends, a somewhat trapezoid arrangement. What we have, after a moment’s reflection, is now a giant repeating pattern rather than obvious symmetry to shape, if a further module were to abut its left side to the right side of the existing one. Unquestionably, expectations of a ready symmetry are delayed, but this only prompts other modularity to the overall shape. Introducing more than one colour hardly remedies the problem. Significantly, such works also allow a measure of volumetric illusion, of a raised or recessed plane, through stripes echoing the angle to notches. Actually this arises in the first Notched series as well, but is given greater prominence here. But in so doing, pattern now concedes a degree of the concrete, through depth or volume to a plane. Picture is certainly back in the painting, the question is what else can stripes do?

The following year Stella commenced the series Irregular Polygons, dealing in a more relaxed asymmetry and further spatial illusion. It was a large series and continued until 1967. He then began a series called Protractor, introducing segments of a circle in combination with radial lines. In both series stripes now contain or combine with remaining parts of the shape, are assigned contrasting colours of varying intensity. Protractor was an even larger series, involving twenty-seven permutations on shape, subdivided into smaller series, such as Saskatchewan and continued until 1970. Both series were drawn further into a schematic depth, with Irregular Polygons often suggesting oblique projections for rectangular volumes; Protractor highlighting an interlacing or interweaving of stripes and an implicit depth. Both series represent the climax to his Minimalist phase. Irregular Polygons is the more problematic, simply for its irregularity. The problem is that a shaped canvas was introduced to delimit an explicit pattern to painting, but if there is no explicit pattern to stripe and shape, then there is no real point to a shaped perimeter or stretcher. Any range of angle, colour, stripe and shape are as easily accommodated within four sides as many more, relate to them just as well or in as many ways. In seeking more complex or elusive pattern to his shaped canvases, the artist only succeeds in sawing off the branch on which he was sitting. Even at the time of his first career survey at The Museum of Modern Art in 1970, there was general acknowledgement that the series disappoints. What was not clear was that it effectively exhausted shaped canvases for the artist.

Stripes in both series are comparatively wider in relation to shape, intervals relatively narrower and fussier. These are as close to pure ‘hard-edge’ painting as Stella ever came. But as displays of colour/shape relations, the works are then at a disadvantage in having less discernible structure than an exclusive array of stripes, within which colour relations may test perceived stripe width against colour intensity and tone, as in say, the work of Kenneth Noland or Gene Davis. At the same time, Stella’s colour struggles for being too strict in demarcation to invoke the successive modulations to intensity and tone explored by say, Jules Olitski or Larry Poons. As a colourist Stella is fairly pedestrian, assigning colour to shape as not much more than colouring-in, unwilling and unable to modify shape for colour, colour for shape. The palette is essentially a commercial or advertising range, leaving some critics to conclude that the work arrives at Pop Abstraction, a subsection of Pop Art. On a footnote here, it is a little surprising how well the commercial fluorescent, epoxy and alkyd paints have held up chemically, on the evidence of the current show.

Both series bring the artist’s development to a crossroads. His project has been built on principles of a manifest plan or design and its modest execution, usually reduced to the unfortunate sound bite “What you see is what you see” and a decorative function for abstraction. Actually the artist’s longer quote (taken from an interview with William Rubin published in the catalogue of the 1970 survey pp. 41-2) is: “My painting is based on the fact that only what can be seen there IS there... All I want anyone to get out of my paintings and all I ever get out of them is the fact that you can see the whole idea without any confusion... What you see is what you see”. Setting aside the naivety of the remark, this manifest display of an ‘idea’ proves unsustainable on his own terms. Stripes may remind us of pinstripes, can run in parallel on planes or volumes, suggest tone or shading to colour, overlap or intertwine and quickly cease to be entirely abstract. As for decoration, its history is largely concerned with degrees of abstraction, usually termed stylization for the motif, with augmenting or embellishing functional objects. To say a painting is decorative is really to describe its function in a given situation. Its function more fundamentally is to picture or depict in two dimensions. To pursue abstract painting as decoration therefore presents a dilemma. On the one hand Stella can accept less abstract motifs at some point in the interests of further decoration, or indeed more ordered ones, (by which route one might imagine him arriving at the sort of territory Valerie Jaudon staked out by the mid-70s). But this is really the thin end of the wedge and to betray ‘pure’ abstraction or self-reference. On the other hand, he can accept less obvious or lucid plans for painting in the pursuit of pictorial foundations. But this is to betray a version of painting committed to manifest planning and an intensely linear organisation. Something has to give.

His abstraction had painted itself into a corner. The artist’s solution was to take his lucid shapes into three dimensions, although this courts other problems. But essentially, it does indeed concede a degree of stylisation to motif or theme. The work is now relatively abstract or decorative, but no longer just painting. For one so long and loudly committed to rigorous self-reference for painting, this small step amounts to a massive retreat or collapse of project. The work never really recovers its relevance or reputation. Between 1971 and 1973 he produced a series of wooden reliefs, many painted, called Polish Villages, after a book about Nazi devastation in rural Poland. Stripes are converted into slots or slats, curves excluded and a subdued palette maintained. But diagonals and inverted Vs now distinctly recall roofs and walls, shattered or overturned. This is disclosed at a discreet distance of course, probably too discreet. The works are also reliefs in more than one sense; with the relaxation to form palpable. Unfortunately they also declare a disturbing regression to the painted geometric bas-reliefs of Bauhaus and Constructivist artists of the nineteen twenties and thirties. But this was deliberate allusion, seeking historical and geographical parallels for the series theme. All the same, such construction only carries the work further from a self-evident assembly of a single idea. It is not always clear how and what has been assembled and painted. The work literally acquires layers that ensure that ‘what is there’ cannot always be seen. But the stylistic pastiche is in some ways a holding operation, there are also shaped canvases that deal in similar shapes and palette from this time.

It was not until the Exotic Birds series in 1976 that Stella properly declared a new direction. Here, drafting templates of curves were fabricated in a variety of materials and sizes and assembled together with related geometric shapes into enormous painted wall reliefs that again deliberately test what can be clearly seen and understood. They now propose an ordering between planes, rather than across them. More striking perhaps, is the scattered gestural painting and hastily ruled grids that variously cover each layer. The rationale here would seem to have been to accent the shift from plane to layer. The effect however is instantly jarring. The work is curiously stilted or forced for this attempted informality or spontaneity. Each layer, like the painted stripes to earlier series, remains carefully isolated; a brittle component in a fragile assembly that fatally wants it both ways: as measured industrial fabrication and jaunty biomorphic caprice. It fails both, lacks fluency and poise. It is a bit like watching the nerd at the office party trying to impress with his special dance moves, only to confirm two left feet. Stella just never really convinces as a loose, funky guy. The work is sculpture then painting, when it needs to be sculpture and painting. As sculpture, the work is immediately out of step with the avant-garde in its application of materials to form. Minimalism insisted upon industrial standards to form and while drafting templates are unquestionably industrial, their fabrication in honeycomb aluminium, fibreglass, wood or card is not a standard market item, nor are the sizes Stella commissions, nor the combinations he makes. The work is old-fashioned or impure as abstraction by these standards and confirms the conservative tendency to Polish Villages. As ‘irregular curves’ (although not so irregular that templates do not perpetuate them) the planes may recall birds or wings, but they do so in a flatfooted, banal manner. Brancusi need fear no rivalry here. Even on traditional terms, the work has no real grasp of volume or mass; it is sculpture conceived on planar and pictorial terms and again the effect is an unhappy compromise.

As painting, the work is just as regrettable. After sixteen years of honing the basics of house painting, Stella simply has no touch. The little squiggles and dabs that notionally colour a plane are a designer’s idea of gesture, a loosening or dash that risks nothing because plane is now rigidly defined; colour has come straight from the pot or crayon set. The painting sparingly enlists impasto or wet-on-wet mixing, since these have long since been discarded as mystifying, redundant rhetoric and the artist insists on keeping things simple, thin, dry. At best, the work allows the occasional drip or dribble but bereft of greater resources these look mannered, precious. These shortcomings would not be quite so conspicuous except that they arise at just the time contemporaries have proposed far more radical solutions, not just to pigment consistency but to painting’s three-dimensional projection. The problem is really that Stella is left with a concept of painting as just colour applied to a surface, and sculpture as dedicated surfaces. Meanwhile others had gradually extended Minimalist pattern to temporary or permanent murals upon various architectural and civic features – from Daniel Buren to Sol LeWitt to Gene Davis (his Franklin’s Footpath  1972) to the site specific works of Claude Viallat, for example. Then again novel chemistry of pigment and application had challenged basic pattern and support by various staining, pouring, spraying and spattering. It was not necessarily about brushing regularly anymore. Pigments augmented with latex or polyurethane, as in the work of Linda Benglis, relax pattern radically; approach sculpture less rigidly. Later work by Jules Olitski and Larry Poons literally rises to the challenge. It is hardly surprising Stella’s project for painting looks conservative, unconvincing and untoward.

The artist would not have been unaware of the situation. But as an intensely competitive man, he was not about to back down or borrow something like unpredictable pigment cocktails either. That would be too messy. Yet conceptually, he does not have many options, as outlined above. Trying to keep it simple and linear while not being too decorative or illustrative; does not leave a lot of room for a designer. The response is to steadily pile on the detail, to load painting even more frivolously and graphically onto sculptures and increasingly contort planes and precarious linkages. The tendency only builds throughout the rest of his career until it unmistakably announces anxiety. Some of this drift is captured in the term ‘Maximalism’ adopted by the artist and used in his retrospective at Wolfsburg in Germany in 2013. The term seems to have been coined in discussions with William Rubin for his second retrospective at MoMA in 1987 but really applies to a maddening precision and clutter. The marriage of painting and sculpture remains a marginal affair however, because ultimately they fought over property. Olitski and Poons eventually return to more two-dimensional concerns, Benglis focuses on three-dimensional ones. As an expansion to fine art categories it was always going to look inhibited in comparison with installations like those of Judy Pfaff from the time, in later years, those of say, Jason Rhoades (1965-2006). If expansion is the agenda, then sooner or later space will need time.

Stella gradually adjusted some of the formal features to his work. The pace was largely dictated by the lengthy process of commissioning increasingly complex fabrications based on small card and foam-board maquettes and then deciding how to paint them. He completed Exotic Birds in 1980. The next series of consequence was Cones and Pillars from about 1983. Initially these are just cut-outs of basic volumes with modelling indicated by schematic stripes of graded width, cast in aluminium. Again, they are assembled in layers together with others shapes, desultory daubing with garish colour and tinsel now largely relegated to the back. The works toy with volume and depth at a planar level, as if to stress a representational function confined to two-dimensions, while the surrounding space is actual, or ‘material’ for sculpture. But cylinders and cones only get us as far as Cubism and this is hardly going forward. The space is still no more than a disjunction between painted planes. In 1985 more complex layering and varying widths to planes are resolved in digital 3-D modelling, streamlining the production of maquettes and enormous fabrications. Computer design soon comes to dominate the quality of line and shape in the work. From that year the artist also commenced his epic Moby Dick series that continued until 1997 and ran to over 266 works, as prints and sculptures. Significantly, another wild animal provides a central motif. No characters from the famous novel ever emerge; at most they are indicated by cones or cylinders.

Planes now curve or twist more, grant the work a certain melodrama but whether this can be said to display obvious material qualities or a depictive function remains moot. We might glimpse a whale’s tail or shark’s teeth, but then struggle to reconcile its planar layer or colour scheme with other parts of the work. The trouble is, form needs a function. The more function the more form, but where a work hedges, wanting one before the other, the result is a stalemate. We never really get to a lucid idea entirely before us because the artist just does not have one. The contradictions are usefully caught in his book Working Space from 1987, in which he attempted to place his work in an historical context. But his reasoning on many points is so confused or disingenuous, critics had a field day. Ultimately the book is an argument for some degree of stylisation to abstraction, one that will accommodate pictorial ‘illusion’ as the artist understands it. But illusion on these terms makes no sense, as another critic eventually pointed out. The thinking echoes the initial ambit to have Johns’ stripes and attitude but without the flag. But without the flag the attitude cannot be the same, obviously. The reductionism conceals a sleight-of-hand not uncommon in formalist arguments, indeed in such appeals to the history of art. To pursue an illusion without it being concrete, begs the question of what the illusion then consists. The concern with materiality suffers from the same error. Materiality devoid of all function deprives us of any terms on which to apprehend it, rendering it vacuous. It is appeals to materiality that lie at the heart of Stella’s work, literally and metaphorically. They explain the vacant space or blank wall at the centre of so much of the sculpture, around which its many gaudy layers grow increasingly agitated, the guarded and uncomfortable lack of substance. They explain the attraction to a theme of mythic, ultimately futile quest in the novel. They explain the promiscuous exchange of materials, shape, plane or colour that singularly eludes consistency. The artist has no allegiance or standard because he has no coherence.

As painted metal sculpture, the problem is usefully illustrated by comparison with the work of John Chamberlain (1927- 2011). Like Stella, Chamberlain’s metal works declare a distinct industrial heritage and colour palette and carry broader allusions to a period and society. In later works the artist similarly adopts cursory, graffiti-like painting to surfaces and a marked tendency to pattern and decoration. The work occasionally carries figurative or concrete allusion, as in The Hawk Flies Again (2011) but in the main Chamberlain refused to be drawn on meaning beyond an affirmation of abstraction as full-blooded engagement with spontaneous alteration to material in many, often brutal ways. Yet for all the torment to planes, Chamberlain’s work acquires a fluency and economy, a mass and volume, a palpable weight and conviction that Stella cannot match or escape. For all the sophisticated and expensive resources, Stella’s efforts remain halting, clumsy and brittle in comparison. Although nine years senior, Chamberlain’s career was delayed by war service and he only achieves his breakthrough with auto parts in 1957 not long before Stella’s emergence. In fact the two artists shared an exhibition in their debut years with the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1962. If nothing else, revisiting Stella’s work of the eighties and nineties serves to remind us of Chamberlain’s achievements.

The Moby Dick series proved a watershed for Stella’s painted sculpture and pictorial aspirations. Subsequent work steadily withdraws to cleaner, more open and linear construction. There are digressions, such as the enormous The Raft of the Medusa Part One (1990) a homage to the epic canvas by Theodore Gericault as an assemblage of discarded aluminium moulding casings, in an effort to give his sculpture more texture or grit. But while showcasing discarded reinforcing and lamination, it can say little about the hapless castaways of the painting, beyond a laboured pun. Again, the work wants to get messy and involved, but on the cheap, as a flip afterthought. Where Stella persists longer with pictorial issues is in prints, these effortlessly afforded by his digital designing, are pursued throughout the nineties to a predictably vast scale. Here the work oscillates restlessly between an attraction to volume, through 3-D modelling frames or grids and more 2-D line and pattern. Perhaps the most successful example, indeed, his finest work, is the mural-sized The Fountain (1992) with its central eruption of black and white curves, tumbling allusions to Duchamp, Matisse, Op and Pop Art, the work for once remains restrained yet compelling in colour and composition, worthy of its seven metre width.

But generally, the prints explode in a frenzy of intricacy and disjuncture, a delirious fantasia on descriptive geometry that never quite finds its range. The most hideous are surely the murals for the Prince of Wales Theatre in Toronto but the example included in the show, with its pointless off-centre German title, Das Erdbeben in Chili (1999) – Earthquake in Chile – cannot be far behind. Such work is drawn to a plane curving or folding in 3-D modelling, as if into a spider’s web, but then snaps back to simpler pattern or single lines with less obvious relations or implications. The work endlessly coils and recoils from the organic to the mechanical in a churning, skittish dilemma. The artist has often spoken of his admiration for an ‘all-over’ or field composition to abstraction, achieved through even distribution of motif across the picture plane; as in say a Jackson Pollock or Mark Tobey. The failing in his digital prints lies in the inability to confine motifs sufficiently and enable such distribution. Alternatively, it suffers from the inability to establish a satisfactory figure/ground arrangement for motif – the opposite of a field in abstraction, as in say, a Franz Kline or Piet Mondrian or some convincing position somewhere in between, as in a Willem de Kooning or Clifford Stills. Earthquake in Chile acknowledges some ground, with its extended border and caption, but in vain. With the exception of The Fountain, such work is experienced as a aimless excess, unable to focus or resolve its interests beyond indulgence.

The Bamboo series (2002-7) found the artist in more relaxed, contemplative mood, perhaps resigned to the one that got away, consoling himself with glossy coloured carbon fibre mouldings and stainless steel tubing. The works venture the odd curved plane, perhaps suggesting a sail or fluttering leaves and are still reluctant to allow viewers behind their backs or an all round view, but the notable feature is the sprawling, looping tubes, opening up or reaching out, inviting a walk in and under experience, an intimation of architectural aspiration. The sweep to curves is greater; the unity stronger for fewer elements, but the work has also become less distinctive. As slick fabrication it is content with far less than a Jeff Koons, Tony Cragg or Anish Kapoor, for instance, and now drifts to a crowded middle ground. Lazy loops and spirals recall the work of Alice Aycock or Dennis Oppenheim; an architectural domain even recommends Siah Armijani. Later work can still occasionally tie itself in knots, fighting the urge to paint or picture, keeps its back to the wall, just in case. Elsewhere it eventually discovers compact volumes, only to find them mass-produced and banal. But by this stage it is only fitting that the father of Minimalism should bring up the rear of the avant-garde, quietly contemplating a tradition closing behind him, anticipating his place within it.

So, In nutshell: the work pursues stripes as a measure of picture plane, exchanges plane for picture shape, shape eventually for three-dimensional layer then painted and printed layer finally for cleaner, shinier framework or volume, increasingly by remote and elaborate fabrication. From pursuing too much form, the artist ultimately finds himself with not enough. If the artist’s career amounts to not much more than a string of unfortunate reversals and compromises, at least no-one can accuse him of being a slave to fashion, if anything from the seventies he became a refugee from it. But did we really need another survey to realise this? Whatever commitments to the history of American art may have motivated the curators in this unexciting exercise, one can only hope they show more imagination in future.
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