The Banks Gallery • Portsmouth, NH • • Through January 4, 2014

By: Christopher Volpe

Southern New Hampshire is fortunate to participate in a rotating exhibition of 1950s and ’60s paintings by Hans Hofmann, Elaine de Kooning, Peter Pace and their progeny, including Norman Bluhm, Ralph Coburn, Sam Francis, Paul Resika, Jack Roth, George Joseph McNeil, and Wolf Kahn.

Postwar Abstraction kicks off a series of exhibitions culled largely from the artists’ estates by gallery director/curator Jamie LaFleur, American art specialist. The lion’s share of this 31-work show is devoted to New York School artists, along with paintings by Provincetown-based Hans Hofmann and his students.

Stephen Pace, Untitled (59-A12), 1959, oil on canvas, 29 x 24″. Signed and dated lower right: Pace ’59. Signed, dated, and inscribed on verso: #59-A12 / 29 x 24″ / Pace / 59.

For many viewers, The Banks Gallery will introduce Hannes Beckmann (1909–1977), the only German-born, New Hampshire-based artist to have studied in Germany’s Bauhaus group. He taught in Dartmouth’s visual studies department in the 1970s, and is represented by a glowing 18 x 18 inch square, orange-red Color Field painting from that period entitled Silent Center (Homage to Joseph Albers). Elsewhere, Elaine de Kooning’s non-representational Untitled (1950s, even smaller at 14 x 11 inches) reads like a meditation on the liveliness of the color yellow.

On the Provincetown side, Hofmann’s lively Provincetown, 1941, ink and crayon on paper, anchors his students’ work, shown alongside. Prominent are Provincetown Landscape 1951, by Robert De Niro Sr. (1922–1993), the well-known actor’s father, and George Joseph McNeil’s Red Shoe Dancer, 1980, predominantly in hot orange, a large de Kooning homage also reminiscent of Larry Rivers. Landscapist Wolf Kahn is represented by two pastels and an oil painting.

Peter Pace’s small-scale yet assertive Untitled, 1959, is energetic and gestural, made during the height of the AbEx movement. The work’s jostling muted primaries teeter in near chaos. Pace keeps order with large yet tightly controlled brushstrokes and a measured impasto layered over contrasting slashes and scrapings.

Another standout is Jack Roth’s La Ligne Tremblante, 1980. On a pale square canvas a central, rough-edged dividing line of raw, unstained canvas shoots vertically between sharp and brilliantly balanced green and red vectors oscillating against a surrounding light blue wash.

Taken together, the selection of work reflects LaFleur’s astute eye for uniting aptly representative examples and inter-relationships among challenging abstract paintings, each of which answers inquiry with its own brand of surprise.

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