Magazine article Artforum International

Adolph Gottlieb. (Reviews)

Magazine article Artforum International

Adolph Gottlieb. (Reviews)

Article excerpt

PACEWILDENSTEIN

These paintings from the last twenty years of Adolph Gottlieb's life--beginning with Black, Blue, Red, 1956, supposedly the first of his signature "Bursts" (but in fact a rather messy, hesitant version of the motif), and ending with the deceptively simple Max-Minimal, painted in 1973, a year before his death--raise the question of the late style of a modern artist and more particularly that of an Abstract Expressionist. The cliche is that the modern artist makes an innovative breakthrough in his youth and then lives off the result for the rest of his life, refining it into a brand image. This is another way of saying he loses his power to the inevitable entropy that overtakes a short-lived creative "burst." After all, how long can creative energies last, especially for artists who think of themselves not as building on tradition but rather as single-handedly founding their own?

According to Rudolf Arnheim, "The increase of entropy is due to two quite different kinds of effect; on the one hand, a striving toward simplicity, which will promote orderliness and the lowering of the level of order, and on the other hand, disorderly destruction. Both lead to tension reduction." The two mainstays of modern art--the conformist grid, which conveys the passive "emptiness of homogeneity," and the unregulated gesture, which promotes the myth of nonconformist spontaneity--are both subliminally entropic, however formally novel they may once have seemed despite their presence among the devices of traditional art. For Arnheim, Minimalist seriality, with its leveling--not to say trivializing--of complexity, is the climactic example of the modern tendency toward entropy through simplicity, as expressionistic "happenings," erupting with "catabolic destruction," exemplify the more dramatic entropic pole of modern art.

This entropic tendency applies to the individual artist's career as well. The only way he can move beyond the breakthroughs of his youth--in Gottlieb's case, the quasi-expressionistic "Pictographs" of the '40s and early '50s, with their gloss of mystery--is to make the ironic best of his submission to entropy by generating tension between its geometric and expressionist forms. …

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