by David Ebony
7. Morris Louis at Mnuchin, through October 18
In recent years, Color Field painting has been enjoying a revival. This show, focused exclusively on “The Veils,” a series of large, resplendent canvases Morris Louis painted late in his career, demonstrates why. Unapologetically beautiful and deceptively simple, the nine mural-size compositions here (averaging 8 ½ by 14 feet), painted between 1958 and 1960, immerse the viewer in a luminous, ethereal space like no other. Centralized on unprimed canvases, translucent pools of color overlap to form gentle yet imposing shapes that are usually slightly flared at the top or sides, like billowing curtains. Tet and Tzadik (both 1958) are standouts here. The muted hue of each painting results from the subtle layering of bright colors that Morris leaves exposed along the edges of the predominant forms. The works may seem effortless or facile but they result from a lifelong exploration of the possibilities of color and abstraction.
Based in Washington, DC, Louis (1912-1962) was a pioneer in the use of early forms of acrylic paint, especially Magna, a type of acrylic resin. The new medium offered increased fluidity and a fast drying time, which allowed for greater continuity of color, form, and texture on a vast scale. Morris, along with his contemporary Helen Frankenthaler, was instrumental in providing new directions for abstract painting in the waning years of Abstract Expressionism. (A handsome show of Frankenthaler’s paintings of the early 1960s is concurrently on view at Gagosian, around the corner on Madison Avenue.) Morris and other Color Field painters used the heroic scale associated with AbEx painting, but eschewed the egotistic and self-referential gesturalism that characterized the earlier movement. Visually sumptuous and conceptually rigorous, “The Veils” look as fresh and provocative today as the time they were created.