Dave and Linda and I went in out of the solar geometry of the August gorgeosity yesterday and visited the tracings, marks, stains, and discolourations that were jammed into the fuel lines of art in the late forties and burst into Abstract Expressionism New York.
Arshile Gorky, the Groucho Marx of the anti-glyph, met us at the door, with three succinct arguments against symbolism. "What do you feel?", he asked, and we had to dig deep, because we already knew his answers. Tragedy. Loss. Pain. And the intangible secret wind blowing behind the canvas draperies of beauty.
Big paintings were in scarce supply, but two huge exclamations by women dominated the next level of revelation. Eliminating the figures and organic imagery characteristic of the feminine eye, Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler bend us backwards, up into the scrutiny of emotional calligraphy.
Jackson Pollock is well represented, though nothing big enough to get lost in has travelled from New York. His Easter lily painting is a generous moment of pure colour in the complex grotto of his famous splatter.
Louise Bourgeois, on paper, and a wall or two of black and white photography by Siskind and Harry Calahan illustrate how second-nature this way of seeing has become to our strategic repertoires in these later days of image solution.
A totemic sculpture of wood, rope and ceramic opened the way to the colourfield experiment. As the pretense of connection to the visceral starts to dissolve in the far expeditions of Rothko and Motherwell and the chill of Franz Kline, our interest became critical.
After the drunken collapse of the AbEx style near the end of the exhibit and the gift shop hazard, I suggested we return to the front hall to thank Gorky (and his brothers, William Baziotes and De Kooning, who was playing jazz on the harp of the traditional female figure in a well-lit corner) for a wonderful eye-party. No one had invited Paul Klee or Charlie Parker, who would have been honoured to have been thought of as the most original of expressive avatars. Invite yourself sometime, see what you think. And feel.
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