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Jules Olitski at Ameringer/Howard
Throughout the 1960s and '70s, Jules Olitski was unquestionably one of America's most influential painters. His vast abstract canvases of colorful, sprayed acrylic were understood as a part of a serious endeavor to achieve a perfect or sublime space that would be sensuous as well as intellectually stimulating. His gorgeous, misty compositions were often compared to works by Turner and Rothko. But in the 1980s, as Color Field painting fell out of favor critically and commercially, so did Olitski.
Ironically, a revival of interest in the Russian-born artist's work began in England a few years ago, when hot-shot critic Matthew Collings gave him lots of ink in his popular books about recent art. Olitski himself has taken to writing for the British magazine Modern Painters, which features in this fall's issue a bittersweet autobiographical piece about his early years. And in his recent exhibition of large new paintings, filling two gallery spaces of the Fuller building, Olitski, 78, showed that he is still painting in top form. Some of the works might be among the best of his career.
In these luscious, poured and sprayed compositions, Olitski has toned down the glitzy metallic pigments of recent years and highlighted gritty textures and earthier hues. The works range in mood from the dark and brooding Last Judgment to the exuberant Celebrations: Orange. Some of the paintings feature a deftly brushed line running along one or more edges of the canvas, a compositional device that in Olitski's heyday was much ballyhooed as a unique strategy to contain the infinite space of the picture plane. Here, the lines seem to function almost as autobiographical gestures, reminding viewers of his past glories in the midst of his present triumph.
Jules Olitski, "New Paintings," Sept. 14-Oct. 21, at Ameringer/Howard, 41 East 57 Street, New York, N.Y. 10022.