This Richard Pousette-Dart show was a knockout. A founder of the New York School of painting, Pousette-Dart (1916–92) is best known for his earlier, imagistic paintings. The works here, fiercely concentrated in composition, were mostly from the 1970s through the 1980s and represented a departure.
These two dozen or so paintings and works on paper were based on the centrally placed images of circle, square, and rectangle in various permutations, with black, gray, white, and red the dominant colors. But that says very little about their impact. Their real power lies in their insistent painterly presence—“Presence” is in the title of two of the paintings—and must be experienced directly. Often, their physicality approaches the three-dimensional, but that then shifts into less definable terrain. Bursting with short, quick strokes that consist of a number of other colors—blue blacks, green blacks—these staccato markings merge in a kind of pointillism when seen from a certain distance and produce an intermittent radiance, the colors subsumed into a flickering scrim of light.
The four most satisfying works were all circles within a 90-inch-square field and were all gradations of black and white. Presence Number 3, Black (1969), the earliest work in the show, almost all black, pulls you into the heart of cosmic darkness, while Presence, Circle of Night (1975–76) appears as both solid and void, the great black circle held in a dense white matrix. White Circle, Time and Black Circle, Time (both 1979–80) consist of a white and black ring, respectively, surrounded by a flecked and fissured black background or a looming white one in which circle meets field to produce a scintillating, osmotic exchange of forces, conveyed by the deliberately slurred edges.
Pousette-Dart believed, along with Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, and Clyfford Still, that abstract painting had the power to conjure the transcendent. Looking at these paintings, it would be easy to agree.
A version of this story originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 81.