NEW YORK - “Wall power” is a bit of an old-fashioned concept in the art world. The idea of a painting grabbing you by the lapels on a purely visual level sounds somehow like faint praise – it smacks of a decorator from the 1970s advising you on what artwork looks good over the couch. We’re in an era in which fearless mega-collectors have to retrofit their houses to show massive installations and endlessly looping video art.
And yet, the current show at Mitchell-Innes & Nash (up through 24 November) in recently storm-ravaged West Chelsea has wall power to spare – enough so that I’m surprised it didn’t give ConEdison the boost it needed to keep the lights on in the neighborhood, which happens to be my own part of town.
Installation view: Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella. Courtesy of Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.
Just seven large works by some of the great midcentury masters ring the walls: Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland and Frank Stella. Color is spilled, daubed, brushed, dotted and lined on good old vanilla canvas, and the striking results cause a kind of cosmic vibration in the room.
Morris Louis’ Theta Alpha and Helen Frankenthaler’s Moveable Blue on view at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York. Courtesy of Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.
Frankenthaler is a longtime favorite of mine, and her massively wide Moveable Blue, 1973, with its transfixing azure pool, takes the honors for me. But I found myself really enjoying the texture of one of the big Louis works – most of the middle of the picture is just unprimed canvas, and your eye gravitates toward the negative space. I got up close to see the gently knobbly texture of the surface that is usually covered by layers of pigment.
This show is stately and conservative, and it doesn’t try to spin a new tale from what’s on view. It doesn’t have to.