Richard Pousette-Dart, Cosmos, 1950-51. Oil and graphite on board, 36 x 48 in. Courtesy of Knoedler Gallery. © 2010 Estate of Richard Pousette-Dart / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
“I strive to express the spiritual nature of the universe. Painting for me is a dynamic balance and wholeness of life; it is mysterious and transcending, yet solid and real.” – Richard Pousette-Dart
Exhibition titles are supposed to be exciting and alluring. They should make you go, “I have got to see this”, or at least, grab your attention for a second or two. The exhibition title for the current Pousette-Dart showing at The Phillips Collection is anything but that. Nothing about the phrase Predominantly White Paintings gets you jumping out of your chair, heading for the door (unless of course you are familiar with the artist’s work already). However, you may want to reconsider.
Richard Pousette-Dart is among the most celebrated abstract expressionists of the avant-garde New York, sharing the limelight with the likes of Pollock, Gorky, and de Kooning – a circle of artists that only a very few (of the very many) had the artistic merit and vision to join. During the early 1950’s, Pousette-Dart departed from his distinguished colorful paintings and arrived upon white, not a color, but simply a characteristic of light’s reflecting powers. Now, for the first time in over 50 years, twenty-five of Pousette-Dart’s Predominantly White Paintings are on display. And let me tell you, nothing about them is boring.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived to preview the newest exhibit at The Phillips Collection. I think Pousette-Dart is an incredibly inspiring artist, and find his colorful works to be intense and well developed; however, the thought of seeing only white paintings put me in a funk. You see, I love abstract art – but – I don’t love minimalism. So, the thought of seeing all-white paintings automatically brought me to this preconceived conclusion – white is minimal, and I probably won’t like this.
Prejudice aside, I headed up to the third floor where the collection was located. Right away my mood brightened when I saw Pousette-Dart written across the wall. And to my surprise, as soon I saw white, every negative feeling I arrived with went away. This exhibition is far from minimal, far from ‘colorless’.
Each painting is lively and mysterious. Drawing on canvas or linen with graphite, Pousette-Dart used white oil paint – with the occasional hint of color – to creatively evoke a state of ‘fullness’ on the void of a canvas. You see, white to Pousette-Dart was much more than just a tool to prime a canvas; it was a symbol of human nature. His work is full of allusions, as he drew inspiration for these references from different cultures, poetry, music, religion, and philosophy.
Richard Pousette-Dart, Sound, 1949-50. Oil and graphite on linen, 58 1/2 x 49 1/4 in. Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Sam Mandel, Palm Beach, Fla. © 2010 Estate of Richard Pousette-Dart / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Although this 25-piece collection truly is predominantly white, a hint of color here and there is prevalent. This sporadic use of color places emphasis on these hues, making each tint feel priceless and placing added importance on the canvas. It is no surprise that because color is used so sparingly, each time it is is present in the collection – your eye is automatically drawn in. For example, Breath of White Motion, 199o simply stands out for its pink and coral hue, while Golden Dawn, 1952 does so for its yellow and golds – both equally emotionally exciting and visually captivating.
The time and dedication each art piece was given is evident through the layers of scribbles. Textures that are not to be confused with your High School math notebook. These “doodles” are intricate, thoughtful, and meaningful – and of course, integral to Pousette-Dart’s success. Knowing that his white paintings are allegedly encrypted with “secret” messages (although most abstract art kind-of is), I did my best to decode them for you all. However, I am sad to say that I definitely came up short. I was so captivated by the spirited nature of the compositions, that by the time I came to the exhibition’s end, I realized I had deciphered nothing. Although I did take notice to the implication of Quiet Lovers, 1950-51 – I mean, how could you miss that one? [Authors Note: I guess you will just have to see for yourself to decide if you agree with me]
The Pousette-Dart collection left me wanting more, eager to want to understand the artist and his work better. I believe that any exhibit that can leave you with that impression, no matter how lackluster the title, is worth talking about.