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May 12, 1963 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1963-05-12
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Selection of Europe's odern rt in Ann
A Student of Painting Takes a Walk Through the Museum
and Shares Her Impressions of the Showing

By Sandra Zisman

The Museum of Art announces its current exposition

Art history has been a


of European

THE ALUMNI Museum's current exhi-
bition of contemporary European
painting is valuable both as an emotional
experience and as an indicator of the
present directions of European art.
At first viewing, the show seems rath-
er eclectic. It would be difficult to point
to any one painting and say, "this is
typically abstract expressionist; this is
surrealistic; this is typically purist." The
show suggests that contemporary Euro-
pean painting lacks one or two strong di-
rections, and that the 1850-1920 burst
of artistic energy - which sent forth
two powerful currents, one disciplined
and rational like Mondrian, the other
free and expressionistic like Kandinsky-
has exhausted itself. The two currents
have divided and redivided until the pres-
ent art world consists of hundreds of tiny
rivulets, each one .a regional variation of
what was once a dynamic artistic direc-
The exhibit also reveals an important
difference between European and Ameri-
can art today. Most of its works empha-
sized the technical, the craftsmanship
aspects of art. Paintings by the German,
Shumacher the Italian, Birolli; the Chil-
ean, Matta; Danish-born Sonderborg: all
displayed a sophisticated mastery of paint
application. Each used well controlled
combinations of sand or gravel textures,
transparent washes, pallette knife tech-
nique or spontaneous dripping or floating
of paint onto the canvas. The general
result was refinement, almost suaveness,
which contrasts with the crude, direct,
energetic work of Americans: Jackson
Pollack, Willelm de Kooning, and Franz
Then too the European collection
showed none of the persistent American
mania for realism, currently manifesting
itself in New York's "pop art" (realistic
soup cans and blown up Superman car-
toons) and in the last few years' renewal
of figure painting. Although a few of the
paintings did not refer to recognizable
objects, for example, Karel Appel's "Faces
in the Hills of Nice," all of them concen-
trated on the abstract qualities of paint-
Generalizing about all of European art
on the basis of this one show is valuable,
but has definite limitations. Professor
Victor Miesel of the Art History Depart-

ment and Professor Herbert Barrows of
the English Department who selected
the works each pointed out that the show
is hardly a comprehensive survey of Euro-
pean painting. The professors were lim-
ited in their choice by price and availa-
bility. Many fine European artists have
not gained certain enough reputations
yet for the New York Galleries that Bar-
rows and Miesel visited to risk selling
their work.
PROFESSOR Miesel pointed out that he
and Barrows began their search with
a list of European painters whose repu-
tations were growing, whom one or both
had seen exhibiting frequently in inter-
national exhibitions, but who had not yet
reached the pinnacle of their careers and
thus the high price range. A Picasso or
a Chagall would be far above the 5,000
dollar per picture limit which they set.
When the professors did find the art-
ists for whom they were searching, the
particular works available by those artists
were sometimes poor examples. For in-
stance, both Karel Appel and Ernst Nay
have done far better paintings than those
in the exhibit.
The final criterion for the paintings
was inevitably personal taste, which nat-
urally limits slightly more the represen-
tativeness of the show. Miesel looked for
impact, for paintings with both immp-
diate emotional power, and subtleties in-
volving the viewer more each time he
stood before them. Barrows found him-
self comparing the paintings to others
of similar intention or technique, evalu-
ating the Birolli, for example, in the light
of the Italian work that he came to know
well when living in Italy.
In the end, it is always the viewer's
subjective response to a work of art that
weights the scale of his negative and
positive judgements about it. If a critic
considers -the spatial composition of a
painting good, the shapes, interesting and
powerful, but also finds the colors not ex-
citing enough and the use of textures a
little monotonous, how is he to come to
some overall conclusion about the work?
How is he to say whether the forms are
so strong that the lack in color or tex-
ture is hardly important, or whether the
latter utterly drains the picture's vitality,
making it mediocre? This coloring, this

domination, but Amer.

ica leads

the field in

modern art. Until May
19. Museum visitors
will have a unique op-
portunity to evaluate
the work of the contem-
porary Europeans.

tendency to Play down or to bring out
flaws comes from the personality of the
viewer, responding immediately and
wordlessly to the work as a whole each
time he confronts it freshly.
From the point of view of the imme-
diate, subjective response, the most stim-
ulating paintings in the European Exhi-
bition are those by Karel Appel, Fran-
cois Arnal and Luis Feito.
APPEL'S two works, the first to strike
the eye when one enters the exhibi-
tion, are expressionistic. Raw primary
colors, red, yellow, blue and green and
thick paint are apparently squeezed di-
rectly from the tube onto the canvas.
"Faces in the Hills of Nice," the larger
one, is the better of the two, forceful and
crude, yet displaying subtle color varia-
tions within each large single color area.
The color is too evenly distributed; no
one here dominates, and the painting is
harmed by blue and red orange enclosing
it like an inner frame, preventing its
reaching beyond itself.
Directly across from Appel is the work
of the Spaniard Luis Feito. This huge
black, white and grey canvas attracts
immediate attention. It is a black surface
scarred by a jagged white hole; it sug-
gests the view of someone sitting inside
a volcano, looking through the cone to
the sky. It is a powerful image, and thick
gravel-like paint adds to its strong,
craggy effect. Professor Miesel described
it as an attention getter, a showpiece,
but not much M'iore. This is entirely true.
Once its initial blast has worn off, noth-
ing more is left. No subtleties involve
mind and eye; nothing carries one into
the space of the picture and moves him
in and out. There is one plunge, and
that's it. The picture could almost be
called tricky,, its novelty surprising, en-
trancing, buthwearing off like a fad in
women's clothes,
Similar to Feito in this respect, Arnal's
two paintings, "Inexactitude Multiple,"
and "Champs essentiels" are truly gim-
micks. The former is composed of seven
canvasses tightly fit together in one
frame, and seeming to refer to some gen-
eralized modern machine. It is a black
and gray linear pattern on white can-
vas, quite rhythmical and freely execut-
ed,'but glib, facile, and without any depth
of meaning. Again, once the painting's
shock value has worn off, the viewer is
left with an empty feeling. "So what?"
AFTER ONE has visited the European
Show several times (as both Profes-
sor Meisel and Professor Barrows pointed
out, it takes several hours to appreciate
and evaluate any work fully) he finds
certain paintings growing more alive and
meaningful, until they are like old friends
whose outlook and whose personal lan-
guage have become comprehensible.
Among those paintings which offer more
with each viewing are two of Alechinsky's
works, especially "Ailleurs, donc, ici." The
Belgian Alechinsky uses muted colors,
blue grey, rosy beige, dull green and
ochre, enlivened and complemented by
small areas of pure red orange and blue
and sparkling pure white. Above all the
work is rhythmical. Large dull areas con-
trast with small bright ones; undulating
lines swing the eye ,into, out of, and
around the painting, colors seem to move
forward and backward to create rhythms
in space. In both this painting and a
larger untitled one by the Belgian fairly
thick paint is used masterfully, the artist
in complete control of his medium. This
is quite unlike Appel's "Give Me a Smile"
where it isn't at all clear whether the
artist or the paint tube is in charge.
Roberto Matta's larges painting was

also a favorite, with its subtle smoky col-
ors; its grainy texture, and its powerful
semi organic, semi-mechanical image.
Matta's work is an impressive combina-
tion of restraint in use of color and tex-
ture and tight technical control, yet great
Emil Shumacher's "Fallada" first ap-
pears to be a display of technical virtu-
osity as though the artist is only interest-
ed in unusual visual effects achieved by
scarring a thick, smooth paint surface
with knife cuts and playing a pebbly
texture and a siatchy patina against
smoother areas. But the work grows in
emotional content the more it is seen.
The flowing line marking off the main
shape is strong and expressive of much
feeling. A gradual change in pale glow-
ing color from yellow to green to purple,
creates a mystical effect. And the paint-
ing's very emptiness, its broad unfilled
spaces reminiscent of the seas and skies
in Japanese art increase its mystical
quality, suggesting the future, the un-
known, the half sensed.
Of the two paintings in the show by
Renato Birolli, one, "Canto Schiaro," has
been purchased for the museum collec-
tion along with a Munoz and an Alechin-
sky. Professor Barrows considered the
Italian work the finest in the exhibit. Its
colors are certainly appealing: beige,
white, blue and rose, and the hues sift
interestingly through one another. But
the minute palette knife strokes are too
finicky. The work is a little tired and
overworked, laden down with small or-
namental patterns which fail to combine
into one or two strong, large shapes.
FINALLY, Phillippe Hosiasson's "Red
and Blue," is a compelling work. Ac-
cording to Professor Miesel, it is one of
the exhibit's most controversial paintings.
Miesel personally liked the painting, al-
though he heard several fairly sophisti-
cated critics term it "decadent." Basic-
one red and one blue, each surrounded by
ally it is a composition of two squares,
a white strip and the whole shot through
with vein-like lines from which paint is
allowed to drip freely and over which
spots of dry powder paint are sprayed.
To pull the two squares together, Hosais-
son painted a small red area on the blue
square and a small blue area on the red
one, a bit too obvious a compositional de-
vice for integrating this painting. Furth-
ermore,. the device does not -quite work,
the blue and red squares retaining a
troubling tendency to suggest two sep-
arate paintings instead of one.
In its total effect, "Red and Blue" is
contrived; the artist's reasoning process
put a damper on his emotions. The viewer
is uncomfortably aware that to give
variety the white strips at the bottom are
thinner than those on the top, to give
continuity that the flowing lines con-
tinue the same rhythm and direction
across the entire painting. One can al-
most hear the artist tell himself "now
if I put a dot here, I should put three
over there to balance it."
The remainder of the tableaux in the
Alumni exposition -are not touched on
here. The entire showing, however, does
offer the University community a glimpse
of the artistic tendencies of nearly every
European country, from Spain to Ger-
many, from Norway to Russia. A few of
the Europeans may have potential
for much greater work and far wider
reputations in the future. Whether or not
a great deal more is heard about artists
like Alechinsky, Matta, Munoz, and
Shumacher those who have seen their
work will have grown intellectually, and
deepened their artistic perceptions.





Contemplation of Appel's "Faces in the Hills of Nice"


An afternoon at the art gallery: pure joy!

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Luis Fe
Blue, PI


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