Now that you can go to the paint counter at Home Depot and mix any color in seconds, is a show like "Color Chart" at the Museum of Modern Art really necessary?
The answer is "No," but nevertheless it’s a pity to knock down curator Anne Temkin’s intellectual drywall, for the argument of this show is that color, by itself, is content free, devoid of spiritual projection and so esthetically neutral that it sucks in the light and space around it. Flatness is all.
The mystery and magic of the light spectrum are absent from "Color Chart." Instead, one is beaten to death by Gerhard Richter’s excruciatingly dull 256 Colors, a room full of colored squares framed in garish green by Katharina Fritsch and boring flow chart of colored mahogany by the always pedantic Sherrie Levine.
Childlike dreams of pastel-dappled sugar plum fairies dissipate under the relentless grid of Temkin’s monotonous limitations: one leaps out at the occasional masterpiece which, conforming to Temkin’s rigid vision, happened to alight in this show. Thus, Walter Robinson remarked, "I never noticed that bottle brush sticking out of Tu M’ before," eyeing a Duchamp which beckons like a random game of Parcheesi.
A woman’s face in Rauschenberg’s Rebus becomes a lighthouse of longing and desire. Thrust your body into a room full of Flavins and watch your shadow dance on the wall. That’s color! Michael Parmentier’s beautiful sea blue and white stripes, 5 Avril 1966, evoke sailing flags in a cool ocean breeze. Byron Kim’s seminal Synecdoche, with all its shades of the human rainbow (what Duke Ellington dubbed "Black, Brown and Beige") bring to mind the man of the hour, Barack Obama.
Writer David Ebony (a gorgeous name that’s most apropos) especially admired some rare little squares of chromatic grillwork by John Chamberlain, and there’s a wall of Warhol’s Marilyns in a grid, of course.
For all its understated interplay and serious intentions, "Color Chart" is infused with the hopelessness that has been the life of the mind at places like Artforum and the College Art Association for far too long. If all you knew about color was what is in this show, why would you want to be an artist?
"Color Chart: Reinventing Color, 1950 to Today," Mar. 2-May 12, 2008, at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10019
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).