Looking back on the year in painting, which artist from the past do you think has the most influence on artists today? Is it Pollock or Warhol or Nauman? Perhaps it's the cragginess of Louise Bourgeois or the risky searingness of Marina Abramovic? Maybe, with all the lame jokes and visual puns that clog the art fairs these days, it could even be master funster Red Grooms? Nope, the big swinging dick of every studio is someone who is rarely mentioned, but who's pictorially replicated over and over, the Swiss rationalist Paul Klee.
Having strolled by the walls of Klee's twee utilitarian squares and flat, shiny faces at the Metropolitan Museum for many years, I have to remind myself that, even though Klee's paintings were less substantial than air to my jaundiced eye, that he was, nevertheless, a man of substance, friend of Kandinsky, mainstay of the Blaue Reiter group, hounded by the Nazis, sufferer of a terrible disease which inhibited him from swallowing and ultimately took his life.
Joseph Beuys himself could not match such personal drama, yet Klee's work has the formalism and crisp, wearing neatness of a harpsichord. Two artists currently showing and garnering critical huzzahs, Thomas Nozkowski and Andrew Masullo, are definite sons of Klee (but there are hundreds more of Klee's children painting these days). The Klee philosophy, essentially, is that no two paintings are alike, yet somehow all the paintings are alike. The shores of light are always diminished into a correct prism in this view: the squares and other polygons which primly clutter the work of Masullo and Nozkowski tumble into a well of dried imagination.
It must be so comfortable to dwell in such a studio, hymn to order, color-coordinated, every bit of geometry neatly arranged even when tilting. Hard to believe that Abstract Expressionism ever really happened, much less Nicolas de Stael. I think it's duller than dirt myself, but what do I know?
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).