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Kenneth Noland, 1924-2010

Post #1439 • January 6, 2010, 7:39 AM • 105 Comments

Kenneth Noland has died. Reports come in from Roberta Smith and William Grimes at the NYT (who also put together a slide show), Mike Boehm at the LA Times, and Carol Mostsinger at the Asheville Citizen-Times, which records reminiscences by local artists of the North Carolina native.

From the Grimes article:

Mr. Noland continued to pursue his high modernist program, undeterred and confident about the future of abstract art. "It's a fertile field that we barely have explored, and young artists will return to it," he said at a symposium in 1994. "I'm certain."




January 6, 2010, 8:41 AM

Noland, Klee and Matisse - no other artists used color like they did. Lots of artists used color effectively and well and even beautifully - Louis, Hofmann, Avery, Miro sometimes, and others - but no one else could wring the juices out of it like they could.

Color is one of the toughest things in painting. Aside from the basic facts it does not seem to be teachable. Hack artists like Kinkade and Neiman and world famous artists like Richter use color that is like throwing lye in one's face. It seems that if you don't have a sense for it as an artist the only thing to do is just eliminate it, or at most use it to merely specify surface area.



January 6, 2010, 9:03 AM

Walter Darby Bannard: Noland's New Paintings, 1971


Chris Rywalt

January 6, 2010, 11:26 AM

It's nice to know color is hard, because I've been having a hell of a time with it.



January 6, 2010, 11:32 AM

The Noland "problem" is somewhat reminiscent of the Morandi "problem": a seemingly narrow, obsessive focus on what the artist does best and is very strongly "wired" or driven to pursue. I suppose the same could be said even of a Piranesi: "It's just one old Roman ruin after another, just a bunch of buildings; same old, same old." There's something to be said for having a broad range, but there's more to be said for being really, really good at what you do, whatever that is.



January 6, 2010, 11:42 AM

Also from the Grimes NYT piece:

'“He was one of the great colorists of the 20th century,” said the art critic Karen Wilkins, the author of a monograph on Mr. Noland.'

The Times should think about hiring an editor.


Chris Rywalt

January 6, 2010, 11:54 AM

Jack, I see what you're saying. But as an artist viewing art, I do find myself somewhat uncomfortable when I see an artist who repeats themselves too often, too narrowly. I'm suspicious of it. There's a review I wanted to write, but didn't get to, of a show of painter David Mann. Obviously he's not Morandi or Noland, but I bring him up as a recent example I was thinking about. All his paintings feature that little...paramecium...thing. It's a figure David makes with a twist of a brush, one way then the other. (It's more obvious in person.) Clearly David's latched on to the paramecium. What I question is why. Is it that the paramecium expresses what he wants or needs to express? Or is it something he can do quickly and easily so he keeps doing it? In other words, is the paramecium necessary or is it habit?

When Franklin and I saw the Morandi show, I got the feeling that Morandi was searching for something. So when he did his little still lifes over and over, with slight variations, it felt like looking at a chemist making small changes to an experiment to see what happens. Morandi didn't feel staid -- it wasn't habit.

I get the impression from reading about him that Noland's wasn't habit, either, but I have very little experience with his work.



January 6, 2010, 12:04 PM

Well,Chris, if you hurry you can catch Noland's last show, at Leslie Feely, 33 East 68th Street (though I realize it may give you a nosebleed to go so far uptown). When I reviewed this show in my October issue, I said it was on through January 9, though conceivably Feely will extend it now. It's only shaped canvases from the early 80s, not peak Noland, but still so much better than Richter that's almost an obscenity to mention both in the same breath. She might be planning some sort of memorial show, too, though I don't know about that.


Chris Rywalt

January 6, 2010, 12:37 PM

I'm planning on going in tomorrow so I may brave the high altitudes. Thanks for the pointer!



January 6, 2010, 12:58 PM

C'mon, MC. She's just another formalist critic, like that Grunberger fellow. Who cares?



January 6, 2010, 1:48 PM

Never mind the superfluous s, MC. What the NYT should more than "think about" is hiring an art critic that lives up to the paper's status and/or pretensions to same. Of course, such a rara avis would have to be found first, but they could at least stand to look harder and demand more from any critic to whom they give the NYT imprimatur. The Smith woman just doesn't cut it.



January 6, 2010, 2:05 PM

Terry Teachout: Kenneth Noland, R.I.P.



January 6, 2010, 2:53 PM

Richter has hedged his bets very nicely, with properly "advanced" and "challenging" work. The system is happy to forgive his abstract work, which may be seen as a harmless enough indulgence or quirky sideline. Besides, the stuff is not good enough to be threatening.



January 6, 2010, 3:14 PM

Chris, if you can't manage a) the No. 6 subway to 68th Street, then walk 2 blocks west, or b) the No. 1 or C trains to 72nd Street, then 68th or 72nd Street crosstown busses east, there are also two shows in Chelsea that you might want to check out. Ameringer/McEnery/Yohe have a Frankenthaler show on at their new 22nd Street location till January 23 (again, not vintage Frankenthaler but better than Richter by a country mile). I also thought "Winter White" at Tria (through January 21) had more to recommend it than anything else on that West 25th Street block.

I realize it's difficult to keep track of all these shows, but it also seems to me that this column spends more time panning bad art and attacking bad critics than trying to find and/or talking about good painting & sculpture in galleries & museums art that somebody else might enjoy looking at. Greenberg seems to have set the fashion in this respect, by spending his last 20 years dumping on fashionable art & artists instead of talking in public about artists whose work he admired, let alone writing about them (except for Olitski, and even then all he did was point to Olitski & say, he's the best).

The fact is that there are a quite a number of artists from the generation after Noland whose work Greenberg approved of, and critiqued in studio visits, but since he rarely mentioned any of these artists in public, and wrote about none of them, practically nobody knows their names. Nor do most people realize that some of these younger artists have continued to grow & develop & become much more individual than they were in the 70s and 80s, when most were still immature & working, as younger artists do, out of older ones.

I also suppose it's more fun to attack bad criticism & art writing, & certainly I'm not a celebrity like Robert Hughes, but as long as somebody is going to rifle the Time magazine achives, why didn't they access the much more sympathetic article I did about Noland, in 1969? Time wasn't using bylines yet, so it's unsigned, but it was one of my better efforts, though unappreciated by Time's troglodyte readers, a number of whom sent in outraged letters about "bedticking."

Incidentally, did anybody besides me tune in to the blog that the Times set up at its website following Roberta Smith's Noland obituary? Fascinating, both the number of idiots who still can't see abstraction and the tributes from more sensible people who admired Noland's art and/or were grateful for the instances of personal kindness he showed them. But you gotta remember, in evaluating Smith, that she has to write for all the dumbos as well as the few enlightened readers of the Times. That's why the Times hired her, and why she wins all sort of prizes with her benighted taste. If she wrote any other way than the way she does, she'd be out of a job.



January 6, 2010, 3:20 PM

Piri, is this you?


George R

January 6, 2010, 3:20 PM

True or False?

This approach dovetailed perfectly with Greenberg’s dictum that the destiny of painting, as it approached pure self-referentiality, was to become ever flatter.



January 6, 2010, 3:30 PM

I've learned that when dictum, diktat, dictate, or dictator appear in the same sentence as "Greenberg," the statement is probably false.



January 6, 2010, 3:49 PM

I think your response answers the question quite adequtely, Franklin.



January 6, 2010, 4:02 PM

Thanks so much, Franklin, for looking that up. As you know, I am incapable of setting up links myself, but the piece you've accessed was written in 1965 by my predecessor on the Art page, Jon Borgzinner, most likely at the behest of his senior editor, Cranston Jones. Jon liked Rauschenberg & Johns; Cran liked abstract painting, and this particular story kind of splits the difference.

My piece, entitled Bold Emblems, appeared in the issue of April 18, 1969. You can access it by typing "Bold Emblems" into the Time archivie search box, and setting the date parameters to 1969. The two paintings discussed in the second half of the article, Vista and Via Gleam, were reproduced on the opposite page, in color, though the plates somehow slipped & the reproductions were not up to our usual standard. Re-reading the piece just now, I find the prose overly purple, but at least it's more sympathetic than Hughes.



January 6, 2010, 4:07 PM

Here it is, Piri on Noland, April 18, 1969.


George R

January 6, 2010, 4:14 PM

For the record, I like Noland's paintings and have stated this here previously. I was fortunate enough to see several exhibitions in the late 1960's. In the process of looking for a reproduction of a particular stripe painting from the 1968-71 period I looked through Artcyclopedia which linked the Time Magazine article.
While I like Noland, I think it's silly to compare him with Velasquez or even any of the impressionists (as a colorist). I also feel that when he was good, he was very good but it seems to me that most of the exploratory paintings made after 1970 (the shapes and plaids) were mundane at best. In all fairness to Noland, he was working in an historical period which suffered from rigid ideas about the direction of painting and was unable to carry forward the promise evident in his earlier works. It's not a sin, only human.

I happened to have read the following articles by WDB at the time they were first published and again today.
Sensibility of the Sixties (1967)
Cubism, Abstract Expressionism and David Smith (1968)
Hofmann's Rectangles (1969)
Notes on American Painting of the Sixties (1970)
Noland's New Paintings (1971)

I think all the articles are insightful and helpful in understanding the limitations inherent in the philosophical approach towards painting in this period. To my surprise, after the harangue surrounding my remarks about pictorial space and abstraction, I find a similar sensibility expressed by WDB. In my opinion, it was a fascination with progress and the "new" that prevented the abstract painters of this period from exploring more directly their historical roots. Today no one says "Cubist" the way WDB and other artists did in 1967-71, it's a history from 50 years past. We're stuck in a rut of our own making.

My condolences to the family.


Chris Rywalt

January 6, 2010, 5:04 PM

Piri, I appreciate the detailed directions, but for future reference, I grew up in New York City, went to high school on 15th Street, and spent a few months as a foot messenger back then, so I know my way around. I still get lost below 14th Street because I don't get down there much, but I'm getting better. I now know, for example, that 1st and 2nd Streets branch off of E. Houston, which is something I guess I should've known sooner, but hey, New York is a big place.

I used to be uptown quite a lot -- I worked in the Citibank building about ten or twelve years ago -- but don't get up there much these days, especially not for art. Mostly that's because I started with galleries that could potentially one day represent me, and midtown galleries are all too good for me. Turns out Chelsea is, also, but I didn't know that when I started.

I'll add those shows you mentioned to my list for tomorrow. I may go into the studio first, then roam the city. See how energetic I'm feeling. Right now I need a nap just thinking about it.

We the commenters here do seem to spend a lot of time complaining about badness and not enough praising goodness. I think it's partly because we're cranky (especially Jack) and partly because we feel defensive (since galleries seem to show so much junk). Also, it's easier and more fun to write nasty put-downs than it is to point to something good. I came to same conclusion as Greenberg independently some years ago when I was writing TV criticism, only my phraseology was different:

"It's very hard to write a review of something good. Whether it's a film, book, television show, car, or screwdriver, if something is really that good, all you can really say is, 'Hie thee hence and see for yourself how good this is.'

"When something's really bad, you can tear it apart gleefully, as loyal TeeVee readers already know. You can say entertainingly mean things about it. You can design tortured metaphors to describe how bad it was. You can invent strange new words for calling into question the ancestry of the thing's creators. You can, in short, have a fun time pounding out 1,000 words of vitriol on your keyboard.

"But when something's good, really good, maybe even the best, what can you say? You can simply gesture at the thing, and maybe bow."



January 6, 2010, 5:09 PM

Re the last paragraph of #13, I quite agree that Smith is simply delivering what the paper evidently wants from her, which is what she's paid to do, and I definitely agree that the final responsibility for the quality of any art criticism published by the NYT rests with the NYT. However, the NYT can't have it both ways, certainly not with people who know the difference. As I said before, Smith, or anyone comparable, is simply not up to the paper's ostensibly top-notch standards, which means its real standards are not top-notch. It hardly takes genius to figure this out.


Chris Rywalt

January 6, 2010, 5:11 PM

Check it out: Paddy and Tom actually get something right! I felt this occasion should be noted.


Chris Rywalt

January 6, 2010, 5:12 PM

If it were up to you, Jack, poor Jerry and Roberta would be reduced to living in a refrigerator box under the Williamsburg Bridge.



January 6, 2010, 5:20 PM

And Chris, I'm not "cranky." I'm BS-intolerant. I'd take something for it, but only narcotics appear to be effective, and I prefer to have my wits about me. Besides, whatever deserves abuse should get it.


Chris Rywalt

January 6, 2010, 5:41 PM

You say tomato, I say you're cranky. Me too. It's okay. Let it all out.



January 6, 2010, 6:38 PM

Once again, Jack will castigate me for asking this, but what exactly do you mean by the penultimate paragraph of #20, George?

It sounds interesting but i don't quite understand it.



January 6, 2010, 6:59 PM

re. Opie # 27. I just love Artblog.



January 6, 2010, 7:29 PM

All right, OP, let's take a different tack. I won't castigate you. I'll just ask you to ponder this: What possible benefit do you envision as a result of continually tilting at this particular wind...mill? Notice, by the way, the sophistication of my new psychoanalytical approach. I feel positively Viennese.



January 6, 2010, 8:13 PM

Chris, I apologize for giving you street directions. I should know better by now, and I didn't know about East Houston, 1st & 2nd Streets before you told me. There are parts of Manhattan I still don't know, though having lived in it longer than maybe you have. As for Brooklyn, I usually need to fall back on maps & directions from google whenever I stray off the beaten path from the Bedford Avenue subway station to Sideshow. I don't even dare face the Bronx.

I agree, it's much more fun & easier to write nasty reviews than nice ones. But is it a critic's job to enjoy himself or herself & take life easy, or is it to provide a service to readers? When you write a review, is that meant to be an end in itself, or is it to point the reader in the direction of something worth seeing? Maybe with you, it's an end in itself, but with me, I want to get people out & looking at work that's worth looking at & supporting (if only by words). I don't expect my words to act as a substitute for looking, but an incentive to go out & look. What useful purpose does it serve to send anybody to look at Richter? (Though I too do castigate the junk upon occasion, particularly when it's good for laffs.)



January 6, 2010, 8:23 PM

Many thanks, John, for setting up that link. To it, I might add something that I learned from some source that I can't remember, about what Greenberg said about his first meeting with Noland. This was at Black Mountain College, around 1950, years before Noland's painting amounted to anything, but Greenberg said he liked Noland anyway because he had "character."



January 6, 2010, 9:25 PM

darby, any new notes you could contribute on noland? stories, personal or otherwise? final evaluation?

and john as well?

and if piri has anymore to say, please..

i go for the circle and stripe paintings first and then some of the needles look good too. but i have seen good ones from all phases and prints as well. ebay often has a nice very small print that is usually overpriced, yet very nice.

i have ken moffett's actual copy of the book on noland which was given to him by noland with a target on it. nice, but unfortunately it needs some cleaning and some minor binding repair. the cover is a canvas like material. it is in the style of the one that is at the modern.

unfortunately his prices have really taken off over the last couple of years.



January 6, 2010, 10:02 PM

A bit of character:

Hagi 1
Hagi 2
Hagi 3



January 6, 2010, 10:16 PM

Reminds me a bit of Milton Avery:

Shino 1
Shino 2
Shino 3
Shino 4
Shino 5

Is that delicious or what?


Chris Rywalt

January 6, 2010, 10:41 PM

Piri, absolutely no apology necessary. I wasn't even a tiny bit offended. I just wanted you to know who you're dealing with: Mr. New York! Or anyway Mr. Between 14th and 110th. Incidentally, my studio's in Brooklyn and I still have no idea what most of the borough looks like, and my parents grew up in the Bronx and I'm really hazy on that, too.

As for Queens -- who cares?

My purpose in writing reviews is weird. My plan, three or four years ago, was to go to galleries and meet people. Find dealers with similar interests while building up a body of work. Make contacts and friends. Eventually get someone to show my now awesome body of work. Receive accolades.

To put this plan into motion I needed something to keep me going, and also help me remember things. I remember best when I've written about it. Also, writing in public gives me incentive. And finally, actually writing a review makes it clear what I really think and feel, rather than just ambling by something and thinking, "I like that" or "That's ugly".

So that's why I write art reviews. If someone finds a good show that way, even better. If someone avoids a bad show, also good.



January 6, 2010, 11:07 PM

I'm rather sad about Kenneth Noland's passing. I heard about it from a Ken Noland fanatic I work with before seeing the news on, and his enthusiasm has rubbed off on me a bit. The provincial art gallery here in Edmunchuck has in its collection a nice little chevron, and a very long bedspread called "Via Pink". It'd sure be great if the powers running the place would set aside some exhibition space in their big new building to acknowledge Noland's lifework, maybe along with paintings from local collectors. But no. It'll never happen. I'll just have to drop by the collection facility and give 'em a good gander by my lonesome.

What's also too bad is how the parrots squawk "highmodernisttenets" BCAW! "formalismdictum" CWRAAQ!! "greenbergianprogress" QRIEE! whenever good painting crops up. When the press is itself pressed to acknowledge good art the proverbial feathers can't help but be ruffled, I guess.



January 7, 2010, 12:28 AM

1: when modernism fell off the cliff circa 1962, Noland was one of the few left standing on its edge and so he always did well with his prices. Piri noted in her 69 article his dealer wanted $28k or so at the high end of the scale. When I included one of his pictures in a show I organized in 85, the price was $55k (and it was framed with raw lattice).

For all the complaints about him that have appeared in the various art pubs since 62, his career is a good example of the old adage, "ink is better than no ink". Which ties into the discussions George, Chris, and Piri have had off and on about negative criticism: If you don't want to further someone's career, don't write about them - period. That's my view, anyway.

He was a wealthy artist, able not just to afford all the supplies his large pictures consumed, but plenty of assistants and plenty of space in which to do them all. With lots of money left over to live the good life.

He is often associated with Morris Louis who died September 62, just as modernism fell into the black hole, but who painted his 20 foot pictures one end at a time, in his 14 foot dining room, while his wife was at work (bringing home the bacon), all by himself, and cleaning up everything by the time she returned home. Louis's death turned out to be a good career move and his prices surged after he passed and the spigot was turned off before he completed a large number of mature works, but I have wondered if he would have kept up with the worldly wise Noland, had he been fortunate enough to live on.

To my eye, the best Louis's are better than the best Noland's, but there are not near as many great ones to look at. At times I have felt the best Louis's were the so called "breakthrough" pictures. Not because they were breakthroughs, but because of the visual residue of grappling and struggling with the method he copped from Frankenthaler integrated the disparate colors so well that they could be at one and the same time both loud and tamed. When Louis began to knock out his several incredible series (like a 15 footer per day for almost a year), the burn may have decreased a notch - but just a notch. For Louis, his very best pictures were like roses, which are prettiest the day before they reach full bloom. Whereas Noland could handle a long series with unquestionable abloom, and keep hitting higher highs now and then. But maybe Noland didn't start out as high as Louis in the first place, what with that unprecedented roll Louis sent to Greenberg, more or less out of the blue. Nor did Noland ever sink as low as Louis did when he started looking too much at Still.

Louis was the more volatile; he had a tendency to wreck the ship every now and then; Noland was much more consistent. Louis was a monk, working best in isolation; Noland was at his glory immersed in the world. They may be the last two great modernists, leaving it to the rest of us to conserve value, rather than kick modernism out of the black hole that has dragged it down for the past 40 or so years. But modernism is hardly dead. It thrives here and there, dispersed in an odd fashion - for the history of art - bound together by goddamn JPEGs and other dots on the screen, of all things, rather than geographical concentration and the theoretical bonding George mistakenly assumes it to have. It may just need someone to smack it hard enough to snap its attention back to the great unfinished project. It is the challenge of my life to figure out why it hasn't prevailed over such whip-sock competition. Might be like how a really good tennis player plays like shit when the opponent is bad enough.



January 7, 2010, 12:37 AM

Ahab, the little AGA chevron is called 'Invitation'. In addition to the mural length 'Via Pink', there is also the diamond called 'Must'. You know the one, you've just blanked on it. Thanks be on high to Terry Fenton and Karen Wilkin, a couple of real Noland champions, who actually made those acquisitions happen back in the day. Along with the Olitskis, and the Bannards and the Bush's, there is a fine show to be had any day. Let's never say never. At the very least, we'll grab a six some night and pull out some racks. That big Walsh is due for a reassessment anyhow...

I am sad to hear of Noland's passing to be sure. In school, his work got me stirred up like nothing else to that point, before I knew a damn thing about painting or his place in history or who Greenberg was. He remains a beacon, and the goodness in his work helped me to see a lot of other work that much better. And thankfully he made the stuff so good that quality art writers had to respond in turn. Some of the early texts on Louis, Olitski, and Noland are amongst the most important documents painting has going.

I like the following from 'Lyle', in the comment thread under the Smith piece at the Times:
'The good thing about a painting is that it discreetly and silently outlasts moronic comments. It even outlasts the painter.'

It is a fine rebuttal to some of the jackass 'squawking'.



January 7, 2010, 12:59 AM

Dude, I think you meant "Wilkins".


George R

January 7, 2010, 1:30 AM

Each period in modern art history has to suffer the oppression of some philosophical idea or attitude. Recently for example, irony reigned so strongly that its humor was overwhelmed by the sheer ubiquitousness of its use. This is a case of what I was describing as the limitations inherent in the philosophical approach towards painting in this period.

What appears to occur is the first round of innovative artists take some philosophical, aesthetic or conceptual position which drives the resulting artworks into new unexplored territory. Once this shift becomes apparent, the initiating ideas become codified and act to confine the path of artistic exploration. Now, without passing judgment, this is what I believe happened in the late 1960's. Reading WDB's excellent articles refreshed my personal memory of what painters were considering as possible, as defined by, the cannon of the day.

In WDB's articles it is apparent that the emphasis placed on the formal analysis codified certain formal painterly solutions as if they were important, meaning important enough to carry the painting. Olitski is a fair example, much ado was made over his use of a few marks along the sides of his color fields, as if these were what made the paintings meaningful. If they weren't important, why talk about them? Regardless of how one answers this question it caused a certain kind of focus to occur in this period, not unlike seeing everything as "ironic" today.

The formal restrictions placed upon how one approached a painting in the late 1960's were psychologically inferred by association with notions of the avant garde. I think this closed off, in practice if not in principle, a number of paths which would have provided Noland better compositional solutions in the 1970's and beyond. Ultimately, no matter how good the formal solutions may be, they are only part of what makes a painting meaningful.



January 7, 2010, 2:48 AM

John, thank you for that beautiful piece of writing in #37.



January 7, 2010, 8:21 AM

Yes, David - I agree. Eloquent comment.



January 7, 2010, 8:51 AM

"figure out why it [modernism] hasn't prevailed over such whip-sock competition"

No doubt there are multiple reasons, but one is surely that what became and is the prevailing and determinant art crowd, certainly at the highest (and most influential) levels, is a rather different animal than what it was historically, with different priorities and a different mentality. Naturally, that means it will respond or react differently and behave differently. The art we now have as the contemporary art is the art that best suits said crowd and its interests, not to mention being the art said crowd deserves.



January 7, 2010, 8:56 AM

George: once any art form is seen as good inferior art imitating its innovations will appear. This is true of all art but especially of Modernist art because of the value Modernism self-consciously places on innovation.

You say "In WDB's articles it is apparent that the emphasis placed on the formal analysis codified certain formal painterly solutions as if they were important, meaning important enough to carry the painting", but this leads to the same kind of misunderstanding shared by those imitative artists and those who say Greenberg said flatness was "good".

The relationship between innovation and quality in art certainly exists, but if and when this is explained we will see that that innovation is a by-product of the effort by the better artist to make better art - not the element that made the art better but merely a (perhaps necessary) characteristic of it. Innovations do not "carry the painting". Innovations are catalysts, not results. If the innovation, as such, made the art better then the imitations would tend to be just as good as the original. We know this is not true. Cubism is a textbook case.

The reason to talk about innovations is really just because they are interesting and because, unlike the goodness itself, they can be made explicit.



January 7, 2010, 9:01 AM

Nice catch, Tom.



January 7, 2010, 9:19 AM

That WaPo obit is rather better than what the NYT ran, which was rather more perfunctory.



January 7, 2010, 10:35 AM

OP, "Innovations do not "carry the painting". Innovations are catalysts, not results." That explains a lot. The hard work starts after the innovations have been discovered - for the innovators as well as the followers. I note the comparison of Noland/Louis to Picasso/Braque in the Post obit.



January 7, 2010, 10:39 AM

Oil painting, for instance, was once an innovation. What was done with it was entirely up to the talent of the individual user/artist. Same holds in general.



January 7, 2010, 10:44 AM

And of course, when innovation per se is taken as an end and not a means, which is what it properly should be, the results are all too predictable: glorified, empty novelty, until it's no longer novel, and is supplanted by a newer "innovation."



January 7, 2010, 11:07 AM

Not only did the WaPo's Matt Schudel show the good sense to use Piri's good line on Noland: he also managed a Greenberg reference that portrayed Clem as the follower, not the leader, of the artist in question.

I nominate Mr. Schudel for Holland Cooter's mistakenly-awarded Pulitzer.



January 7, 2010, 11:33 AM

You mean unjustly-awarded Pulitzer, MC. It was no mistake; it's not like they really meant to give it to someone who deserved it, or at least deserved it more.



January 7, 2010, 11:42 AM

No, I'm sure the good Pulizterians meant to give it to the best art critic they could find: they just have no idea how to credibly select such a person, and are unaware of their own ignorance in this regard.
I hardly think they were trying to look like total assholes when they gave it to Cotter. It just turned out that way.



January 7, 2010, 12:52 PM

David, every artist has to figure out how to work, what to do, what methods to use and conventions to adopt. It is less a matter of inventing per se than finding a groove that works, less a matter of doing something new (deliberate originality seldom works) than it is recombining someting old to make something better.



January 7, 2010, 1:16 PM

I beg to differ, MC. I think the Pulitzer crew knew what it was doing, just as it knew the current rules of the art game. By those rules, Cotter is at least an acceptable choice. When people know what's more or less expected, what will fly, and they know they'll get away with that, they all too frequently go with it even if they know it's bogus and/or they don't really admire it. It's called playing it safe.



January 7, 2010, 1:28 PM

Thank you, Tom! I'm delighted with the Post obit -- obviously, I'm prejudiced because it quoted me, but even making allowances for that, I think it's better than Grimes in the Times. Washington still has much more sympathy with modernism than New York does -- as witness the Louis retrospective at the Hirhshhorn in 2007, and the Truitt retrospective this past fall.

As I see it, Noland's achievement -- taken en bloc -- was as great as that of Louis, though at a certain point one gets to talking oranges & apples, two different sensibilities & you pays your money & you takes your choice. I do think that Noland's work is harder to relate to, if only because it represents the outlook of an artist born in the twenties (1924) as opposed to one born in the teens (1912). And -- although this is irrelevant to the discussion here --- Louis is much more widely accepted by people who don't know too much about art because he can be classified as first-generation abstract expressionist, which is more popular in "polite" society than color-field painting.



January 7, 2010, 1:37 PM

"I nominate Mr. Schudel for Holland Cotter's mistakenly-awarded Pulitzer." and Piri should get 1/4 of it for that line. (I'm not flattering you P.) Really, it was insightful then and it's held up beautifully. Btw it was John Russell I think who made the remark about Noland/Louis, Picasso Braque. I loved his style when I was quite a bit younger. I'm over him a long time since, but do any of you think he had any juice?



January 7, 2010, 1:44 PM

Dude, "Some of the early texts on Louis, Olitski, and Noland are amongst the most important documents painting has going." I can look Bannard up in the archive. Can you suggest any others to check out?


Tom Hering

January 7, 2010, 2:19 PM

Piri, you're welcome. I hate to see the work of journalists forgotten, as my Dad was one. Maybe, thanks to the internet, the fish that past journalists' printed work got wrapped around weren't dead after all. They're swimming upstream again, looking like schools of shiny linotype slugs.



January 7, 2010, 2:26 PM

Schudel is better than Grimes and, needless to say, better than Smith. It may be a matter of being more sympathetic to modernism, but not necessarily, or certainly not entirely. It could also be a matter of being better at one's job. There's also, quite likely, a CYA element--a NY critic has more to lose by straying from the party line than a DC one.


George R

January 7, 2010, 2:48 PM

opie, (45) Once any art form is seen as good inferior art imitating its innovations will appear. This is obviously true but not what I'm addressing. Also, other than Greenberg's general influence the specifics of his critical positions aren't the issue.

My observation again, is that each period in modern art history has to contend with the oppression of some philosophical idea or attitude. Whether it is "formalism" or "irony" or whatever, it doesn't matter. In the early stages of the development of some painting style or approach, the existing rules are meant to be broken as new ones are worked out within the working process. At some point the new 'rules' (philosophical positions, styles, etc) become codified and tend to stifle further expansive innovation.

Now to be more specific, I think Noland's targets were his best works, and most effective because of their associations with mandalas. By 1971, the time of the review of the plaid paintings, it appears as if he was groping for another solution to contain the color. Even though he tried, another really good solution eluded him and this is what got me wondering about how artists deal with the limitations placed upon them from the outside or the limitations inherent in the zeitgeist itself.

What seemed to inhibit his development more than anything else was the straight stripe. In the target paintings, there is considerable variety in both the touch, speed and size of each color band which gives those paintings a personality that connects with the viewer. I always thought the plaid paintings held more promise than Noland was able to realize and what I think held him back was a certain rigid posture regarding what he could accept as a painting and that this stance was reinforced from the outside as well (the tone of the WDB articles as a general example for 'outside'). Maybe he was just a victim of his own success.

I'm not passing judgment one way or the other, more just making an observation which I feel applies today as well.



January 7, 2010, 3:31 PM

George I don't think you can characterize existing conventions generally as oppressive. They oppress bad artists but act as springboards for good ones. once again, Cubism is a good type specimen.

Nolands targets are wonderful, but I am particulatly fond of the horizontal stripe/field painting around 1970, the ones with varied widths. These enabled him to do as much or more with color as the targets did.

I have seen some that just get beyond me; I just can;t figure out how he made the choices, or why the choices are as good as they are. I know color really well, and teach a course that relies a lot on playing with color combinations, and his color choices, which of course also depend on surface and size and area and relationships, continually amaze me at their best.

He was a restless artist, and a narrow one (in a positive sense), and sometimes too brittle and awkward, and when he went from one thing to another he occasionally lost sight of what he was best at.



January 7, 2010, 4:55 PM

OP, I certainly don't know Noland's work as well as you do, but my current general impression is that, if one looks at his entire career, he had a relatively mild (or milder) version of the Kandinsky syndrome (about which I've already commented recently). I'd welcome your thoughts on that.



January 7, 2010, 5:15 PM

Do you mean good for a number of years and then falling off?



January 7, 2010, 5:38 PM

Yes and no. Here's what I wrote earlier about Kandinsky:

I think Kandinsky had real talent, as evidenced by his earlier work, but he short-circuited it, over-rode it or got in its way by, in essence, thinking too much and too hard. The fact he was at least inspired or driven by quackery like Theosophy obviously did not help matters. I think he didn't understand or didn't trust his real gift, and tried to channel or strait-jacket it into the wrong program. He may have been true to his intellect or philosophical understanding, such as it was, but he wasn't true to his true talent as a visual artist. It's a shame.

Obviously the analogy is only partial, and the specific details differ, but I think there's some parallel. As I said, the problem was more overt and severe with Kandinsky, but when I compare Noland's earlier work with the later stuff (especially the shaped canvas pieces), I get a similar sense of the painter thinking too hard, or too technically, or too theoretically, and producing work that has been made to fit a template of sorts, with somewhat mechanical or mechanistic (as opposed to natural) results.



January 7, 2010, 6:50 PM

jack i hear what you are saying.

still, while i feel the target and stripes are the best he did, even the shapes and flares (which were multiple shaped pieces put together) produced some very fine work. for what it is worth, fenton has a flare he considers a masterpiece.
you can see a flare "homage to matisse" on fenton's page. with this series it is impossible to get the full effect because the sheen (flat, gloss, etc.) and surface (epoxy gloss flat to mini-crater like surface) very so greatly on each of the joined pieces and this just does not come across in a jpeg. regardless it is still mostly about the relationship between colors, but it all plays a part.

same address for each above, but via fenton's site there are separate pages for an essay "appreciating noland" which also has an intro to each series with a few example of each and another link that has full pages of numerous (20 or so each) old targets, stripes, chevrons and more.



January 7, 2010, 7:29 PM

George R "I always thought the plaid paintings held more promise than Noland was able to realize and what I think held him back was a certain rigid posture regarding what he could accept as a painting."

Opie "George I don't think you can characterize existing conventions generally as oppressive. They oppress bad artists but act as springboards for good ones. once again, Cubism is a good type specimen.

Jack "...the problem was more overt and severe with Kandinsky, but when I compare Noland's earlier work with the later stuff (especially the shaped canvas pieces), I get a similar sense of the painter thinking too hard..."

Now we're getting down to serious cases. Did Noland, in the plaids and chevrons, become too deliberate, and lose some of what he attained in the more seemingly second nature (or at least less self-conscious) painting in the targets? Not to say he wasn't thinking in the targets, but his thinking seemed to be reflective, after the fact, while the plaids and chevrons, shaped canvases, are obviously far more premeditated. It was like he was thinking, after the targets, "How can I do that again?"


Chris Rywalt

January 7, 2010, 8:48 PM

I just got back from seeing the show Piri recommended, a showing of a bunch of his shaped canvases from 1981 and '82. I didn't think they were great: They felt too thought out, not enough felt. Too constricted, too, kind of bottlenecked. Constipated, even. I ended up being more interested in the flaws in the canvas -- those knotty bits you find every so often in linen -- and how the fabric wouldn't lie flat when folded around certain sharp curves, leaving wobbles in the surface. The colors had no room to breathe or resonate.

It does look, as Jack and Tim say, as if Noland was overthinking it. Saying to himself, "What can I do now?"


George R

January 7, 2010, 10:30 PM

Regarding the Noland horizontal stripe paintings - those were my favorites also, in particular the large ones with higher contrast. Some of these were shown by Nick Wilder in LA. I think this is the painting I was thinking about:
GRADED EXPOSURE, 1967 -- 88.7 x 229 in. (7'-5" x 19'-1")(225 x 582 cm)

Maybe my use of "oppressive" isn't the best choice of words. I'm trying to single out the subtle (and not so subtle) assumptions artists make which are a function of the historical moment. I don't think it has to do with good or bad artists, that only affects the outcome not the starting point.

Any painter privately knows their own limitations, less frequently they might understand the limitations and influences imposed by a moment in history. Regardless, ones moment in time has a built in restriction on what might be conceivable as a painterly solution. Moreover, a great artist will have their own internal sense of dissatisfaction, the questions about what lies over the next hill as something they may not be able to precisely visualize but sense is there.

A painter may have to deal with the adulation of success, to decide if they believe their own press and want to settle in a comfortable but narrow zone of investigation. From his body of work this doesn't appear to be the case with Noland. In the course of extending his motifs Noland had to deal with a critical environment which is echoed in the WDB articles I listed earlier. It was a particular conceptual (thoughtful) approach towards painting which by default excluded certain paths.

In addition, and no small factor, was the complete collapse in critical support for painting of all styles starting in the early 1970's and continuing until nearly the end of the decade. During this period most of the fertile territory for abstraction had been staked out and the level of vitality declined. Painters were still painting but the buzz was elsewhere.

With this background, I'm still wondering why Noland didn't push the 'plaid' format farther instead of the odd forays into the shaped canvases.



January 7, 2010, 10:56 PM

George R "A painter may have to deal with the adulation of success, to decide if they believe their own press and want to settle in a comfortable but narrow zone of investigation. From his body of work this doesn't appear to be the case with Noland. In the course of extending his motifs Noland had to deal with a critical environment which is echoed in the WDB articles I listed earlier. It was a particular conceptual (thoughtful) approach towards painting which by default excluded certain paths."

Do artists work themselves out according to the dictates/whims of crickets, I mean critics?


George R

January 7, 2010, 10:59 PM

The remarks being made about Kandinsky's later works make unfounded assumptions about what Kandinsky was "thinking about" and fail to take into account World War I, the influences from the Bauhaus as well as his move to Paris in 1934.
Further, I totally disagree with the opinions expressed that Kandinsky's early paintings were his best. As his work evolved over the years he continued to explore the virgin territory of abstract painting. The paintings exhibited at the Guggenheim were of remarkably high quality, some better than others but even this was equally distributed. There were 90 paintings and 70 drawings (watercolors) at the Guggenheim. It is quite evident from the progress of his work over time that he was exploring the visual solutions, step by step.

To suggest that Kandinsky didn't understand or didn't trust his real gift, and tried to channel or strait-jacket it into the wrong program. is nothing more than fat assed stupidity.



January 7, 2010, 11:08 PM

George R "To suggest that Kandinsky didn't understand or didn't trust his real gift, and tried to channel or strait-jacket it into the wrong program. is nothing more than fat assed stupidity."

It seems that it wasn't a case of not understanding, but a case of departing from.


George R

January 7, 2010, 11:34 PM

Noland and Kandinsky were sort of opposites. Kandinsky had a broad array of unexplored possibilities in the early years of abstraction. Noland, on the other hand, was boxed in by his style. He was also clearly influenced by the "painting as object" idea of the 1970's as he sought a way to keep his paintings fresh.



January 7, 2010, 11:37 PM

Sorry, Chris. Hope you didn't find that long trip uptown a total loss. Your response is certainly interesting, but I hope it doesn't cause you to avoid Noland from now on. You might like the MoMA & Whitney targets better (though I don't think much of the Noland that the Met normally has on view) Your response makes me wonder if maybe Noland takes more getting used to than I realized: I've lived with his work so long that I respond positively even to lesser examples of it (though his very late work -- from 2000 onward marks a serious falling off --- not surprising, considering that his health wasn't the best). I'd agree with those who say that the shaped canvases from the 80s aren't up to the targets of the late 50s & or the horizontal stripes of the 60s (and, for what it's worth, around 1970 Greenberg transferred his enthusiasm to Olitski). However, I still found the neatness & cleanliness of this show welcome, especially by comparison with smeary types like Richter. And Chris, you didn't comment on Noland's colors. Did you find them unattractive? And what about the color combinations? (From what I remember of those colors, the reproductions at the Feely website don't capture them at all.)



January 7, 2010, 11:47 PM

George, I don't believe that Noland or anyone is boxed in by a style unless they are operating within that context, which is their choice. What is to keep them there? Crickets?



January 8, 2010, 12:19 AM

George it is late & I have been watching the football game, so I haven't read everything carefully but I get the feeling that you are misunderstanding the positive role of creative limitations in art-making. I will check it out tomorrow.


Chris Rywalt

January 8, 2010, 8:10 AM

I'll be writing about it on my own site, but the gist of what I was thinking, in regard to Richter, is this: As much as I wasn't taken with the Noland show, comparing it to the Richter show (or throwing in the Frankenthaler show you suggested, which I also saw) is interesting, because you can see the clear difference between someone with a method, a system, an assembly line -- Richter -- and someone who is questing, reaching, and thinking -- Noland and Frankenthaler. None of the latter's work was revelatory, brilliant, or fantastic, but all of it is better than anything by Richter because it all shows restless intelligence and exploration. You can see the decisions of the artist on the canvas. Whereas in Richter's work all you see is another widget off the conveyor belt.

As far as Noland's colors, I wasn't strongly impressed. The shapes and colors, in fact, struck me as dated -- they clearly look like the '80s to me. I was eleven years old when they were painted so I was just starting to pay attention to the world at that point. It looks to me as if Noland presaged "Miami Vice" and New Wave and John Hughes comedies. I don't know if Noland picked up on the times or if, as you asserted in your article, Piri, the ad men and designers of the time picked up on Noland. Either way, these paintings looked '80s to me, and though I liked the '80s well enough at the time, looking back it was a yucky decade.

That said, Noland's work is still better than a lot of people's. Not my favorite but certainly not a wasted trip (especially since I'd made the same trip for McCarthy and Richter -- and what could be a waste compared to them?).

I've seen some of his targets here and there and honestly never been bowled over. I like him better than Hofmann or Newman, but not as much as less restrained painters. Maybe I like him about as much as I like Stella.



January 8, 2010, 8:40 AM

Once upon a time I would have jumped on #71 with a vengeance, but what is beneath notice should simply be ignored. And yes, OP, I'm talking to you.



January 8, 2010, 9:23 AM

re: 58

David, I am no expert but here's some stuff that comes to mind...

'Modernist Painting' (1960) - Greenberg

'Louis and Noland' (196?) - Greenberg

'Noland' (1965) essay for show at Jewish Museum - Fried

'Three American painters: Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Frank Stella' (1962) - Fried

Any of the late 60's early 70's Bannard articles about painting are excellent and relevant.

There is plenty of good stuff in the Abrams monograph essays by Ken Moffett in both books on Olitski and Noland. These are a little later, but serve as a thorough accounting of high mod work up to that point. He also wrote a good essay for the Louis exh. at the MFA, Boston.

Fried wrote the essay for the Morris Louis monograph, which is excellent.

Anything by Terry Fenton on Noland is superb. See 'Appreciating Noland' (early 90's) or if you can find an essay for the Emmerich exhibit in the early eighties, it's great also. Do yourself a favour and visit the Sharecom directory and check out the Noland and Greenberg pages especially. Fenton has put up some great stuff there on Noland, including comprehensive image examples from each series.

Personally, I think the successful pix from the late work are every bit as good as anything else.



January 8, 2010, 9:25 AM

Sorry, after some checking the Emmerich essay by Fenton, was actually a Salander show, 1989 or 1990.


George R

January 8, 2010, 10:39 AM

Comment #71 was pointed directly at Jack. His remarks about Kandinsky are factually incorrect, baseless opinions. He should stick to pots.



January 8, 2010, 11:01 AM

It was perfectly obvious to whom #71 was directed, but as I said, it's not worth getting into, given the source, which applies to any and all comments from such a source. Unlike OP, who's evidently made of sterner stuff than I, or, like a cat, is compelled to go after a mouse simply because it is a rodent, I see no point in engaging someone for whom I have negative (as in less than zero) respect. Still, one is amazed at such extraordinarily persistent, regular and extensive "slumming." Squatter seems more like it, but perhaps even mice cannot live by Winkleman alone.



January 8, 2010, 11:11 AM

I think most people generally agree early Kandinsky is superior to late Kandinsky, whatever they base their opinions on. Call them 'visual facts'.



January 8, 2010, 11:13 AM

Thanks Dude for the list. I'm thinking about Chris's reactions too. Frankly when I was coming up, so to speak, in the early 70's and 80's, Noland, Louis, Frankenthaler (and Greenberg) were very old news and I got very little from them. Then all was neo-ex, which was mostly awful but I did love the smell of paint in the air then. In the 70's Ken Moffett was promoting a few Boston painters at the MFA who were terrible, and then he was gone. I retreated to study with my eccentric Japanese humanist painter mentor and to learn furniture making. We always, always loved Matisse though - especially a painting like the Morrocans, for its color and mysteries. My teacher would say things like "Monet was good but he depended on color too much" - as in depended on color too much to make space in a painting, and I took this forward and applied it to the color field painters. Anyway, this is all remedial education for me and I appreciate it.


George R

January 8, 2010, 11:25 AM

Tim, I don't think it is as simple as just making a choice. Ones choices can be affected from the outside, in subtle ways. In Noland's case I think the idea of considering the painting as an object was in the air when Noland made the polygon shaped paintings.

Or, consider this, the only series of paintings where Noland let the stripes/bands overlap was in the plaid series. I've often wondered why he didn't pursue this particular approach. But, overlapping shapes order the pictorial space by creating an over-under relationship and I suspect this was not something he wanted to address further.

So, we can say he made a 'choice' and this choice inherently reduces the possibilities (that's what choices do) and his investigation extended to the polygons. Now the odd thing about this is that the polygons make a pictorial space by their shape and the stripes remain uncrossed (on the canvas at least) It appears that maybe he was willing to accept the literalness of the polygons over a pictorial space created by parts in relationship to one another. Part of this idea was in the air in the 1970-1980 period and again reflected a certain strictness about abstraction at the time.

The very late circles, the Mysteries, do away with these restrictions by exploring a more subtly worked atmospheric space which accepts a greater degree of illusion.



January 8, 2010, 11:59 AM

Chris, do let us know when your reviews of Noland & Frankenthaler are online. I'd be interested to read them.



January 8, 2010, 12:01 PM

bannard gets some new ink.



January 8, 2010, 1:01 PM

George, you write "this choice inherently reduces the possibilities (that's what choices do)"

Which is my point. You have to make choices to make art, or anything else. "Reducing possibilities" is not a liability, it is a necessity. You seem to have been proceeding under the assumption that we should accept it as a liability.

Noland's changes, and their workability and effectiveness, or lack thereof, is a fascinating case and deserves analysis. Fascinating because his format was so simple and based so thoroughly on one aspect of painting, and the changes were so clear-cut and describable.

30 years ago, with this in mind, I would have run to the typewriter. Now I have gotten too lazy.



January 8, 2010, 1:32 PM

It's not laziness, OP. It's lassitude. Or you could even try neurasthenia, which is now obsolete, but I'm rather fond of it, however unaccountably.



January 8, 2010, 1:50 PM

Well, lassitude implies a certain amount of diminished capacity.

True as that may be, I prefer laziness, which provides a gloss of deliberation on my part.


Chris Rywalt

January 8, 2010, 2:25 PM

I expect, Piri, my reviews will mostly be what I wrote here already, but I'll let everyone know anyway.


Chris Rywalt

January 8, 2010, 2:30 PM

1, that article-cum-photo essay is brilliant! Is that what WDB looks like today? He's adorable!

Seriously, he looks great, and the close-ups of the paintings look great, too. Looks like he's having the time of his life.



January 8, 2010, 2:42 PM

Chris, the man is not 90-plus. You make it sound as if he should look like Yoda.



January 8, 2010, 2:45 PM

But yes, the piece is great, the kind of fresh air that rarely blows through the art world.


Chris Rywalt

January 8, 2010, 3:56 PM

I didn't say he looks great for his age, just that he looks great. Rockin' the sandals-with-socks look, laughing, shooting the camera with...a glue gun? Whatever that is. Just looks like a fun time. Like a leprechaun on holiday.

I may be half his age but a photo series on me would look much, much worse. Especially if the photographer forgot to bring his wide-angle lens.



January 8, 2010, 4:48 PM

Well, Chris, maybe if you stopped scarfing down those IKEA meatballs, you'd get somewhere.


Chris Rywalt

January 8, 2010, 4:49 PM

But they're so damned good!



January 8, 2010, 5:26 PM

Well, you're not a Viking, so leave them be.


Chris Rywalt

January 8, 2010, 7:04 PM

But I am Italian, so food in general, it speaks to me. Also love. The two do not precisely fit together: Too much food makes the love difficult.


Chris Rywalt

January 8, 2010, 8:13 PM

Paddy made up for getting it right earlier by calling Charlie Finch's Noland obit "great". It's actually pretty stupid, but at least it's short.



January 8, 2010, 9:06 PM

So who or what, exactly, is this Charlie Finch? I hear his name mentioned occasionally, but I don't really know, or haven't bothered to find out. His Noland obit, however, sounds rather fishy.

"the great pictorial didactic Clement Greenberg"? Last I heard, didactic was an adjective, not a noun.

"[Noland's targets] are cosmological, yet atomic, commercial yet abstemious, beautiful yet remote, and they have a piece of God in them." Uh, right. Talk about trying too hard and coming up short. Quite. Presumably another Pulitzer contender, or might as well be.


Chris Rywalt

January 8, 2010, 9:27 PM

I can't say I'm an expert on Charlie, but the overview, as I understand it, is he's an art writer who used to write for (and may have founded) a magazine called Coagula. He's known for being a contrarian and, at times, a sexist pig. Sometimes just a regular pig. These days Charlie Finch can best be described as Artnet's beard: By publishing his rants they can appear to be hip, edgy and willing to consider the opposition. He allows them to pretend there's more than one side to the art world. He's an approved jester, who gently and
carefully gums the hand that feeds him.

Sometimes he says things that are right on target. There have been moments when I thought I might one day turn into him. But then he sometimes says really dumb things. So do I, of course.


Chris Rywalt

January 8, 2010, 9:33 PM

On the positive side, there's this, from Coagula, but not from Finch:

You end up hating art and the elite are happy you are now leaving their art world, could you please leave the door open a smidge so that we may laugh at you some more as you walk away.



January 8, 2010, 9:57 PM

Sorry I asked. It wasn't worth knowing, but thanks. Sounds like the guy thinks he's getting away with something, when the system is merely condescending to use him as a "colorful," quaint little "character" with, as you note, no teeth. Just what we need, another co-opted "maverick."

Well, at least he's not throwing around ridiculous bombast like "ultrapowerful technique," but I suppose everyone can't have that kind of "mojo." Sheesh. Where do they get these clowns?


Chris Rywalt

January 8, 2010, 10:32 PM

The first draft of my answer was "Trust me on this, you don't care who Charlie Finch is," but the didact(ic) in me wouldn't let go.



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