Monday, April 20, 2009

Way Cool Art

Just as I’m reading Thomas Crow’s The Rise of the Sixties, I learned Saturday that there’s a great new show called New York Cool at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. As everyone knows by now, the Sixties actually began in the Fifties, and there’s a painting by Adolph Gottlieb, Circular, from 1960, that’s light years more alive than its catalog reproduction would have one believe. The same can be said for Helen Frankenthaler’s Seaside with Dunes, from 1962, and for Yayoi Kusama’s No. Red A, 1960. One of the hallmarks of Sixties art was that it was cooler and less personal than the Abstract Expressionism that preceded it, but these three paintings, while not announcing their makers’ egos, are anything but cool. Red’s a hot color. Oil’s a hot medium. And these three paintings have both.

New York Cool, the catalog, for the show which traveled from New York University, has reproductions of all the artworks plus a number of essays I’m looking forward to reading when I finish Crow’s book, which is an easy read and a good introduction to the period and its artists. Crow gives us a time line beginning in 1954, when Rauschenberg began his Combine series, also the year Matisse died. The next year, James Dean was fatally injured when he crashed his Porsche, and the year after that, Jackson Pollock ran his car into a tree and Johnny Cash recorded I Walk the Line. Hard to imagine now that these beginnings and endings happened within a mere 11 years of the end of World War II, an event that seems locked in another time and place. Strange too how art remains fresh and the rest of history gets all musty.

There is a theory that no space-time continuum exists, and that events are making themselves as they happen, only to disappear moments later. What this means for art, I have no idea.

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