The Number Paintings by Alfred Jensen at Pace Wildenstein is a great exhibition. Superlatives such as this are generally of little use in criticism, but every so often you see something that reaffirms your love for art, reminds you how it is truly constituted and reveals why it is so hard to come by. At such times, only superlatives will do. In his catalogue essay, which is of a standard befitting such a show, William Agee quotes Donald Judd: “Now and then a chance occurs for a narrow, substantive, categorical statement: Jensen is great. He is one of the best painters in the United States” (Artsmagazine, 1963). Forged in New York during a period when trends favored a very different type of painting, Alfred Jensen’s work speaks, today, with a profound conviction few painters of his generation can match. It resonates in both the paintings’ form and the impassioned study of ancient culture and art history from which the form is generated. As Agee, speaking from first hand knowledge, tells us in his essay, Jensen knew that his work would not be understood by his own generation. He believed it would only come to be understood by posterity. Alfred Jensen was fond of saying of himself as an artist: “I am a sign post.” That is exactly what this exhibition should be.
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