February 10, 2016

Some Contemporary Painting at the Met

Lee Krasner, Rising Green, 1972; oil on canvas, 82 3/8 x 69 1/4 in. 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art recently reinstalled their contemporary galleries and the curators have shaken things up a bit. There are, of course, major abstract expressionist paintings, but there are also more works outside the accepted canon; there are more works by women; there are surprising paintings by artists I thought I knew. This exuberantly lyrical painting by Lee Krasner is nothing like the more formally complex paintings of hers that I know.

Mark Rothko, No. 21, 1949; oil and acrylic with powdered pigments on canvas, 80 x 39 3/8 in.

It is good to see a Rothko painting with saturated color that points to where is going in his more famous works; here there are smaller forms and a meandering line that marks a boundary between two different hues of red.

Helen Frankenthaler, Stride, 1969; acrylic on canvas, 117 x 94 in. 

And this Frankenthaler really knocked me out; it is so different from her stain paintings, which I don't much like,. The simple, grand gesture, the sweep of orange paint, are full of movement, clarity, and buoyancy.

Willem de Kooning, Easter Monday, 1955-56; oil and newspaper transfer on canvas, 96 x 74 in. 

I love de Kooning's paintings and Easter Monday is a brilliant example of his work of the 50s. When I look at his paintings I am in awe of the the way the fierce energy is controlled and balanced.

Easter Monday detail

Small incidents are compelling, such as newspaper transfers that came from de Kooning's painting process,

Jasper Johns, White Flag, 1955; encaustic, oil, newsprint, and charcoal on canvas,
78 5/16 x 120 3/4 in. 

The Met has a great Jasper Johns on view, White Flag. Its gorgeous surface plays with image and symbol and abstraction.

White Flag detail

White is made up of many colors.

Conrad Marca-Relli, The Battle, 1956; oil cloth, tinted canvas, enamel paint, and oil on canvas, 70 1/2 x 130 1/2 in. 

I haven't seen much of Marca-Relli's work, but I very much like this large painting with its myriad forms angling towards the center, implying deep space. Its title The Battle, makes me think that it might refer to the Paolo Uccello panel paintings The Battle of San Romano.

The Battle detail

The painting is made up of complex layers of paint and pasted shapes.

Al Held, Mercury Zone III, 1975; acrylic on canvas, 96 x 143 in. 

Al Held's painting has a different kind of space, one seemingly simple but made up of illusionistic forms floating and overlapping; they defy rational understanding.

Julian Lethbridge, Untitled, 2003-4; oil on canvas, 85 x 76 1/2 in. 

I'm sorry to admit that I don't know Julien Lethbridge's work at all because I think this is a beautiful painting. I like the layered weaving of lines....

Untitled detail

....as though in a dense forest.

Alex Katz, John's Loft, 1969; oil on aluminum. dimensions variable. 

This wonderful painting by Alex Katz was in a gallery adjacent to those of the permanent collection installation. It consists of several cutout figures and parts of figures; it echoes the sense of the bouncing-around perception we might have at a party, with figures close and far, alone and in pairs.

John's Loft detail

It's beautifully painted, with perfect economy. How nervy it is to juxtapose a partial closeup of a face with a figure far behind it.

I enjoyed my visit to the contemporary galleries at the Met, and I look forward to seeing what the museum will do with its new space, The Met Breuer....I'm excited!


  1. What a FANTASTIC post!
    That Lethbridge painting...I think you'd want to climb into it, in person...
    The Al Held should hang in my opthamologist's waiting-room to give the eye-conscious something fun to do. (In place of the £@3^ TV-set).

    1. I'm pleased you liked the post, JBS. Fun idea for the Al Held, but it sure would take up a lot of room; it's huge.