Olitski’s small stakes

Jules Olitski, “Untitled Eight,” 1960, magna acrylic on canvas, 78″ x 80″

  Jules Olitski, “Fanny D,” 1960, magna acrylic on canvas, 89″ x 89.5″

  Jules Olitski, “Untitled Two,” 1960, magna acrylic on canvas, 79″ x 66″

In the San Francisco Chronicle Kenneth Baker suggests that the Jules Olitski show at Hackett Mill demonstrates how tame and dated some abstract paintings, which were considered radical back in the day, appear today. “Anyone too young to remember the heyday of color field painting should regard Hackett Mill’s show of early work by Jules Olitski (1922-2007) as necessary homework. The explosion of artistic possibilities since 1960 – or the onset of critical glaucoma, as some understand it – makes the accomplishment of Olitski and contemporaries such as Kenneth Noland (1924-2010) and Larry Poons seem academic at best today.

“Olitskis such as ‘Untitled-Two’ (1960), which began with his staining unprimed canvas, retain a whiff of the radicality they appeared to have 50 years ago. ‘Untitled-Two’ flouts compositional graces, eliminates line, insists on the identity of form and surface, and plies a defiantly tasteless palette. But how little rides on such decisions in retrospect. Olitski’s ‘Embracing Circles,’ though not without interest, now read as period pieces. Hackett Mill has sensibly included a small 1968 painting, “Sunset,” to remind us of Olitski’s engagement with deeper artistic issues of that moment: his effort to finesse levitating the imageless painted object into a key of reality all its own.”

Jules Olitski: Embracing Circles,” Hackett/Mill, San Francisco, CA. Through October 1.


  1. Olitski's early paintings look lovely, and I don't care at all whether their air of radicality is gone. You can make the same argument about virtually every avant-garde work after enough time has passed. Can you imagine fistfights breaking out every time "merdre" is uttered in Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi?

  2. To say that a work of art isn't relevant because it isn't radical is to be wearily out-of-date.

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