Richard Pousette-Dart’s East River studio

Richard Pousette-Dart, “Allemande,” 1951, oil on linen, 42 x 33 1/2″

From 1946-51, as Abstract Expressionism was taking hold of New York,  Richard Pousette-Dart lived and worked in a former brewery on East 56th Street where he painted “Symphony Number 1, The Transcendental,” 1941-42, which now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Born in 1916, Pousette-Dart, the youngest member of the Abstract Expressionist tribe, took a few courses at Bard, then moved to Manhattan, where, over the next fifteen years, he actively participated and exhibited in the combustible art scene, showing first with the Marian Willard, then Peggy Guggenheim, and later with Betty Parsons. In 1951, the same year he was included in �The Irascibles� photograph in Life magazine, he moved his family to upstate New York where space was cheap and there was less distraction from his work. Christopher Wool, who studied with Pousette-Dart at Bard in the early eighties, and P-D’s daughter painter Joanna Pousette-Dart (link to an excellent conversation with Joan Waltemath in The Brooklyn Rail) have curated a show for Luhring Augustine which includes paintings and sculpture from the frenetic 56th Street studio days.

Richard Pousette-Dart, “East River Sun,” 1947-1949, oil on linen, 55 1/2 x 37 1/2″

According to the press release, some of the works in this exhibition began as larger canvases that he later cut down to accommodate both his working space and the galleries where he showed the work. He reworked the truncated canvases, always experimenting with different materials, from enamels to gold leaf, silver leaf, charcoal and sand, and then stretched them on new supports. �The sizes of my paintings in the early days were often determined by the largest roll of canvas I could afford to buy and the largest wall I could tack it on,� Pousette-Dart once said.

Richard Pousette-Dart, “Icarus,” 1951, oil on linen, 41 1/2 x 72 1/4″

In the New York Times, Roberta Smith notes that many of his pieces combine drawing and painting “with astounding freshness and wry (dare I say graffitilike?) self-awareness, ” and she suggests that the show should precipitate more admiration for Pousette-Dart’s often under-appreciated work. When I stopped by the opening a few weeks ago, I was drawn to the gnarly knotted sculpture, but I didn’t find new appreciation for the paintings, which with all their painterly zeal and calligraphic brio, seem overworked to me. I like to imagine what they looked like tacked on the walls of the East 56th Street studio, before he chopped and reworked them for the smaller walls of 1950s galleries. Ah, if only Chelsea’s hangar-like spaces had existed back in Pousette-Dart’s day…

Richard Pousette-Dart, “Creature of Clouds,” 1949-1950, steel wire and metal, painted, 49 1/2 x 28 x 14″

Richard Pousette-Dart, “Arc of the Bird,” 1950, steel wire and metal objects, 49 x 23 x 14″

Richard Pousette-Dart: East River Studio,” curated by Christopher Wool and Joanna Pousette-Dart, Luhring Augustine, New York, NY. Through December 17, 2011.

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