TWENTY-FIVE ARTISTS--photographer Hans Namutt and twenty-four artists--is an anniversary exhibition for Phoenix II in Washington, D.C. Quite appropriately, the occasion honors the gallery through artists without whom the place would have no raison d'être. We may begin, therefore, with the three columns of eight painters and sculptors referred to in the title, but discard as quickly as possible the arbitrary alphabetical sequence in favor of one that would provide a clue for a conceptual justification. As we attempt this, and as our name- bound minds jump from Abstract Expressionism to Photo-Realism, associations with The Springs and other places in the Hamptons begin to mingle with Provincetown, Lower Manhattan and Peggy Guggenheim, to empty eventually into a sea of ideas, images and forms that are without attachment to externals and without need to be identified, the reassuring categories, with their comfortable sense of orderliness that are normally at our disposal, are of little use here, whether by grouping generations, isms, or geography. Yet in those cross-currents that provide nothing graspable at first, there is a unifying view just the same--one that may be gleaned through the photographer's lens.
And a keen lens it is, as is the eye behind it. Through it we see Balcomb Greene like a King Canute immovably entrenched within his thought that reduces the sea behind him to a mere metaphor. Lee Krasner, very tall, arises dominantly above her brushes. Larry Rivers in a moment of crucial decision, his keen kinetic intelligence isolated within the immobility of the studio. A youthful Jack Youngerman, sharp and lean against the hard edges of a painting. George Segal viewing a naked body with a sexless detachment of a professional form maker. Howard Kanovitz expressionless in contrast with a painted woman's face where everything is brought to the surface. Yes, and Alice Baber, as most of us have never seen her and none of us ever will again, her lovely features attenuated but still intact, her head held and contained within a metal halo vest, as she deploys her pure and exquisite artistry against the cancer in a last, gallant rear-guard action since overpowered. These and many others are the photographic interpretations that Hans Namuth has created for us on this occasion, thereby providing the exhibition and the book that accompanies it with an armature that otherwise would be lacking.
But the twenty-four painters and sculptors whose likenesses have become the medium in the sight of an exceptionally gifted photographer/artist can hardly be asked to forego their own choice on this occasion. They exercise this choice through the selection of a favorite work and that of a favorite published comment about themselves. Each of the twenty-four artists is thus presented three-fold. Through the work of his or her choice, through an insight given literary form, and through photographic interpretation, the artist's persona is reflected in a selected work (and its reproduction on the printed page), and is reinforced by mirror images conveyed through Hans Namuth's perception, as well as through printed commentaries that conjure up literary analogies to visual experience.
Let us read some of them as we extract some highlights from the full versions quoted in the pages of this book:
No better way to begin than with perhaps the most loyal publicist of The New American Painting, Tom Hess , who summed up Elaine de Kooning's contribution as follows: "Certain artists, as a premise, censor chaos and establish clarity from the word 'go.' Elaine de Kooning is foolhardy enough to invite chaos in and to fight it every inch of the way to a gasp of truth. The paintings are marked by the struggle and its risks. But because they have been opened to risk and chaos, they are literate, able to speak, to doubt, question, attack, despair, affirm. . . ."