The Older Generation

Figures from the older generation of the Modernist Mainstream continue to expand my mind. Beginning in the 90’s, Larry Poons evolved a startling, wild new style which yielded some of his most original and extraordinary paintings ever. The color was still Color Field, tending always toward pastels, but his dense, dry, coarse, cacophonic intensity proved difficult to see for eyes schooled by Olitski. But to me, Poons’s most recent works are disappointingly conventional. Perhaps they will be transitional to something more exciting. After 40 years of international super stardom and multitudes of loveless paintings, Frank Stella has been miraculously reborn as our freest and most exciting sculptor. Richard Serra’s last two awe-inspiring shows at Gogosian Gallery were also the pinnacle of his development so far. Like Stella, he has used fashionable success to elevate his art to the highest level. Both are in their 60’s. One of Modernism greatest masters, Olitski, now over 80 and facing cancer, has created a gloriously joyous, celebratory new series of paintings. Anthony Caro’s recent show at Michell Inness and Nash gallery, entitled The Barbarians, was wonderfully original. He is 80, and continues to challenge himself and expand our mind. This is less true of Noland, although he remains a great colorist and powerful picture maker. Robert Goodnough , also knows how to keep his art alive. As far as I can see, the 82-year-old Belgian, Bram Bogart, one of the few Europeans to be influenced by Color Field, remains the most commanding Modernist painter in Europe. He has taken painting as physical presence to its ultimate extreme. Although Frankenthaler’s recent show at Knoedler’s looked weak and tired, she, like the other major Color Field painters (including Louis, Dzubas, and Bush until they died) have been amazingly creative and consistent over the past 50 years. Their work is one of the great achievements of Modernist Art.

Frank Stella
Frank Stella “The Monk and the Condemned Man”, 1998, 44″ x 59″ x 36″

I am going to elaborate on all of the above in subsequent writings. Also, there are many other outstanding figures, Mainstream and not Mainstream, well-known, little known, and unknown, who I will be discussing too. But always looming in the background will be the seemingly anachronistic figure of Odd Nerdrum, Norway’s contemporary Old Master, and self-revealer extrordinaire. Some call him the world’s greatest living painter. For me, his 1988 show at the Edward Thorpe Gallery was a historical event. It consisted of monumental figure paintings in the 17th century style invented by Caravaggio, and it was simply spectacular. Not since Gericault, not for well over 150 years, has a major figure worked in this style. Here is “history painting” in the grand, humanistic tradition: heroic moral action, and dramatic chiaroscuro. Nerdrum reminds us why history painting was traditionally regarded as the most challenging of all subjects. Also his accomplishment puts to rest the notion that to be major a painter must be Modernist. Stylistically, Nerdrum’s painting is the polar opposite of Modernist painting. He achieves relevance through his literary subject matter, which consists of stripping man of contemporary, urban, civilization and reducing him to his existential, universal, human condition. If Nerdrum is achetypically Post Modernist, by now he can also be said to be Modernist, taken as the quest for untrammeled freedom. Modernism is an infinite expansion of the possible driven by the passion to enshrine the feeling of freedom. Nerdrum and the New New both make the same point: anything goes, and genius alone, “gives the rule to art.”

Odd Nerdrum
Odd Nerdrum “Man Bitten By A Snake”, 1992, Fry Museum, Seattle