At the Drawing Center, Pousette-Dart Refuses Sense

THE DAILY PIC: His brass shapes evoke language no one could understand.


THE DAILY PIC (#1426): So I have to admit that I started out being a bit disappointed by the Richard Pousette-Dart show now at the Drawing Center in New York. In the past, I’d found some paintings by Pousette-Dart to be pretty eccentric and interesting, but the works on paper in this current exhibition seemed a bit on the generic, sub-Picassoid side.

And then, as I was shrugging my way out of the show, I passed a vitrine full of these – at last – deeply peculiar brass … things. Reliefs? Talismans? Pendants? Made in 1939 and 40, they don’t fit any of the usual artistic categories, and don’t seem comfortable as decorative arts, either.

More than anything, they feel somehow linguistic, like glyphs in a language I don’t understand. I think that is deliberate: Secret meaning systems were pretty central to the Surrealism that these come out of. But I think they also point to a heroic failure of meaning that, as I’ve argued before, became the driving force behind much of modernism, at least once Picasso and Braque came up with the gloriously failed language of Cubism.

Forget “Isn’t that beautiful?” or “How very intelligent” – the crucial exclamation of 20th-century art is, “What the hell is that”. (Second from left courtesy  J&J Collection, all other images courtesy the Richard Pousette‐Dart Estate)

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