Go see this show

Illusory Flowage, Neil Welliver, OIl on Canvas

Illusory Flowage, Neil Welliver, OIl on Canvas

When I have more time, I’ll write quite a bit more about the current dazzling show at the National Academy Museum, Say It Loud, Seven Post-War American Painters. I saw it Friday, and though I’m a guy who generally finds it impossible to stop talking (just click around on this blog if you doubt me), I was dumb-struck with awe and admiration. It features work by seven painters who aimed to reconcile representation and abstraction in a period when, as the catalog puts it, “American painters who came of age in the 1940s and 1950s were expected to choose allegiance to either abstraction or representation. As many saw it, no middle ground was possible.” These days, painter after painter–and artists working in other mediums–gravitate to that middle ground. By choosing to remain on the fringe, as it were, these painters stayed true to what is, for me, the central imperative of painting: make it simultaneously real and unreal, both a rendering of something actually seen and a physical field of paint assembled for its own sake. The show brings out how all seven painters recognized that the way forward was to make their medium and its support central to what the work is about: how painting is first and foremost about paint, even when it’s inevitably about something else. There’s so much to love in this show, and though I didn’t like all of it, it made me respect and admire even those among the seven whose work left me wanting. (We suspect the fault is in ourselves, not these stars.) More later. (I have to say that after a couple decades of admiring and envying Neil Welliver from reproductions of his work, I finally was able to see the how magnificent his paintings actually are.)

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