This year is the centennial of the birth of American abstract painter Richard Pousette-Dart (1916–92), and, to celebrate, his meticulously crafted works have been on view in New York throughout the fall season. At times classified as an Abstract Expressionist (he appears in the famous 1950 Life photograph of the “Irascibles”), he was known for a prodigiousness that defies neat slotting. He was gifted with a discerning, roving eye and mind and was presciently global in his inquiries. Deeply attracted to the spiritual and its emblems across cultures, he found meaning and efficacy—including the power to heal—in totemic figurations and organic and geometric shapes that encompassed far more than the formal.
At Del Deo & Barzune (through January 13), Pousette-Dart’s only etchings (from a series that he made between 1979 and 1980) are being shown for the first time. Elegantly installed, the 20 works, mostly black and white and letter-size, use the etching as a matrix. It is often a grid, thick with crisply incised marks over which other materials (acrylic, ink, gouache, graphite) are added, using a variety of techniques so that each image is unique. One marvelous grouping features his signature primordial egg shape in progressively obscured states blizzarded by pigment, and includes three versions of Upon Moonspace (all 1980). The few color works present stand out, in particular Myriad Gardens (1980), its all-over pointillist touches of luminous, lyrical hues a delight.
But it was at Pace’s recent show, “The Centennial” (September 6–November 18) that Pousette-Dart shone. There were fewer than 20 paintings on view, but it seemed as if there were many more given their richness and variety. Most were from 1948 to 1982 and amply scaled, and they included early totemic images (Night World, 1948) as well as the nearly monochromatic (Radiance #1, 1967; Radiance #3, 1968-69; White Silence, 1974). The densely painted, at times vertiginous, canvases are remarkable, Pousette-Dart’s balancing of the optic and the haptic revelatory, as is the way material and mark dissolve into light and the ineffable and then become paint again in an ongoing, alchemical cycle.
And lastly, an important work of his is publicly on view again. Presence, Healing Circles (1973–74), Pousette-Dart’s 21-foot triptych, has been restored and very recently relocated from the Bronx hospital where it hung for more than 40 years to the main lobby of Gouverneur Health in downtown Manhattan, its presence clearly salutary.