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Pace Galleries

Wall Street Journal Features Review of Adolph Gottlieb Exhibition at Pace

Adolph Gottlieb: Gravity, Suspension, Motion Pace Gallery 534 W. 25th St., (212) 929-7000 Through April 28 Among the first-generation Abstract Expressionists, Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974) was, along with Robert Motherwell, the most elegant. His mature paintings—done after the "Pictograph" pictures of the 1940s—are less aggressively radical than Jackson Pollock's, less deliberately "tough" than Franz Kline's, and less theoretically driven than Hans Hofmann's, with his "push-pull" big idea. They attempt to be simply beautiful, doing so via adroitly chosen color, carefully calibrated shapes, sophisticated paint application and an airily delicate balance using vast areas of "empty" space. The question with a Gottlieb exhibition—such as this superbly installed show, with a lot of nice breathing room—is whether his work will look better or weaker in the context of 40 to 50 years of subsequent artists' derivative, and then dismissive, abstract painting. When it comes to the 12 paintings here, in nearly every case the Gottliebs look better. The works' monumental prettiness seems to have a philosophical depth to it, and more than a hint of metaphysical truth. In "Spray" (1959), this can be seen in the way in which a slightly flat-sided black oval with a gray penumbra hovers, on a rich brown ground, over a wild yellow burst. The artist does get a little didactic in a couple of 1970s paintings sporting some small colored rectangles, placed like mere notations of ingredients, in the lower right-hand corners. But all in all, this is a profoundly therapeutic, cool breeze of a painting exhibition.
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