If you need a break from the materialism of the season and are seeking something more ethereal, perhaps something spiritually uplifting, daresay even sublime, then I’d recommend visiting Paul Kasmin Gallery to view the six huge canvases by Morris Louis on display there until January 19th. Saf Dalet, shown here, is only one of the luminous and passionate pieces painted by Louis during the astoundingly prolific, inventive period shortly before his too-short life ended at age 49. (Louis was over 40 when he arrived at his mature style, and in the five years before his death, he reportedly made some 600 paintings). At 94 1/4″h x 135″w, this canvas and the others are so visually vast they immediately and completely absorb and embrace the viewer. You may get a miniscule idea of its beauty from the reproduction, but this is truly a case where the in-person experience is de rigeur. A further surprise is that these pieces are not in museum collections — half are from private collections, and half from the artist’s estate, so seeing them is a rare opportunity indeed.
Concurrently, there is an exhibition of Morris Louis’ work at the Hirshhorn Museum in DC, up until January 6, 2008.
The text from the Hirshhorn exhibition underscores the incredible feat of how Morris Louis made these enormous paintings, explaining that at the time, he used the dining room in his house, a mere 12 x 14 feet in size, as his studio. He worked on unstretched canvas, and frequently was only able to see the part he was working on, rather than the piece in its entirety. For the complete text on Louis from the Hirshorn, click here. [An interesting aside is that Louis credits a visit to Helen Frankenthaler's studio in the early fifties by himself and Kenneth Noland as pivotal in the development of his work.]
Breathtaking. Beautiful. Original. What more could you want, except to wish that he was still alive and working? In spite of his broad influence on other color field painters and artists who have followed in that vein, few, if any, have soared like this.
Worth noting: Paul Kasmin Gallery gets extra points not just for having a lovely space, but for staffing it with courteous, pleasant, and helpful people. No Scrooges or Grinches here.