Helen Frankenthaler & Morris Louis: Pours

Helen Frankenthaler, Gulf Stream, 1963 (© 2014 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, I
Helen Frankenthaler, Gulf Stream, 1963 (© 2014 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Photo: Rob McKeever)

Peter Schjeldahl reviews two exhibitions of color field painting: Helen Frankenthaler: Composing with Color at Gagosian Gallery and Morris Louis: Veils at Mnuchin Gallery. Both shows are on view through October 18, 2014.

Schjeldahl concludes: "Color-field climaxed a modern ambition to expunge narrative content from painting. You were meant to be alone—“autonomous” was a byword—in wordless communion with art, as with a sunset. But art, unlike nature, requires someone to perform an act of will, and where there’s a mind directing a hand there’s a story. If the story is excluded from a picture, it will reconstitute around it as art criticism, which provides a set of thoughts for the reasons that, as you look, you should abandon thinking. That isn’t fair to individual aesthetic experience, which may find drama in abstraction and transport in realism. It also leaves out of account the worldly circumstances that impel and reward changes in art. Those turned out, by the end of the sixties, to endorse almost anything but more color-field. Color-field paintings are period artifacts, some of them lastingly enjoyable, of a peculiar presumption."