In this show, Kenneth Noland returns to his earlier 1960s motif of "circle" paintings. They look like targets, but the term "target paintings" apparently belongs to Jasper Johns alone. The historical resonance of this Noland exhibition is stunning to those who remember the heyday of color abstraction at Emmerich.
In returning to his signature image from the 1960s, Noland offers viewers a chance to reevaluate his entire career without actually showing early work. On top of this, as the last exhibition presented by Andre Emmerich in the Fuller Building, the show is a reminder of all the engaging art -- some better and some not quite as good -- that gallery-goers have enjoyed in this space over the years.
Unlike the original Circles, Noland's new canvases are small in format, most measuring about two by two feet. They are as colorful as before, but the visual effects are quite different. A number of the new circles, including Jazz, have black backgrounds -- a striking innovation that adds to the vibrancy of the compositions.
Most of the new canvases, however, are cold and cerebral compared to the sensuous and monumental earlier works. The slick, iridescent colors and impasto textures of the new circles seem high-tech and almost foreboding in contrast to the expanses of flat, warm color and inviting matte surfaces of the 1960s works.
Like ripples on water, Noland's circles echo his own past and also that of the gallery. But the poetic effect here is ironic. After a graceful and splendid past, the Andre Emmerich gallery closes in an awkward thud of controversy. Bought by Sotheby's several years ago, the closing confirms the fears of those who distrust the encroachment of auction houses into the gallery business. It seems that this venerable art space has been closed as a result of bottom-line decisions of a large corporation rather than because of more individual and intellectual concerns having anything at all to do with art.
Kenneth Noland, Sept. 10-Oct. 17, 1998, at Andre Emmerich, 41 East 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10022.
DAVID EBONY is assistant managing editor of Art in America.