Hans Hofmann, "Memoria in Aeternum," 1962. Oil on canvas. 84" x 72."
As much as I loved the Ab Ex show at MoMA, there were relatively few real revelations - most of the very best paintings in the exhibition were the ones that are usually on display (One and Vir Heroicus Sublimus in particular). They did bring up a few hidden gems from the basement, though, with this Hofmann being my favorite by far.
As I mentioned in P.IL. #61, the Achilles heel of much gestural abstraction is the problem inherent in mixing color on the canvas; any sophmore painting teacher will tell you never to do it, because the result will be mud soup. Here the 82-year-old painter and pedagogue shows that if you know what you're doing, you can throw the rules out the window. The vast majority of this 7' canvas is covered by a mudslide. And it's a beauty!
How can this be so? The mud is flowing upwards, which makes it feel weightless. It veils what appears to be another painting behind it, just peeking out the top, which makes it appear wafer thin, again, cutting down the visual weight. And most importantly the two rectangles of pure color are made all the more vibrant because of their drab environment.
The risk involved in the figuration, of course, is that the rectangles will dangle, like Christmas-tree ornaments, in front of the picture. But Hofmann integrates the two shapes in subtle ways - the red rectangle is almost identical in value to the ground, and the tiny wisps of yellow in the murky ground color create a strong visual tie to the yellow rectangle. Wow!
Mainly, I liked the nerve of this picture. To be able to pull something off like this, at this size, is something that I sincerely hope I can do when I'm in my 80's.