I’M SQUARE, not well rounded, when it comes to art. I struggle with nonrepresentational work, and I’m puzzled and dismayed by Pop. But lately, encouraged by more broadminded friends, I’ve gone to a few exhibits of paintings and drawings done in the last half of the 20th century, and I have even liked some of them. The first was the big Abstract Expressionist New York show at MoMA (until April 25, 2011). Although the museum is awfully self-congratulatory about its collection, and there’s a lot here that left me cold, the Pollock drip paintings seem to explode off the wall, while the room of Rothkos, especially the ones in dusky shades, had me floating in color and light (another canvas, done the year before his suicide, is a flat, despairing gray and white).
I also went downtown to see Gerhard Richter’s drawings at The Drawing Center (35 Wooster Street; until November 18): There is only one truly representational piece (though some suggest landscapes), but I was mesmerized by the way he explored the possibilities of the medium, from smudges to erasures to long, beautiful lines. Too often, abstract drawings resemble doodles. These have vision and form even though they represent nothing but themselves. The show is called “Lines Which Do Not Exist,” and it made me realize what a revolution it was for artists when they were no longer required to depict identifiable people and things.
Nothing could be less abstract than the Roy Lichtenstein black-and-white drawings from the Sixties at The Morgan Library (until January 2, 2011). Like his paintings, they are inspired by ads and cartoons (precise renderings of a cup of coffee, an airplane, a pair of sneakers), and while they may brilliantly evoke art in the age of mechanical reproduction, to me they merely wink and scoff and ironize. They have nothing true or human to say. In contrast, the Degas drawings at the same venue (until January 23, 2011) are eloquent and subtle; my favorite was a study of a cellist or perhaps one of his early, moody self-portraits. Compared to his ballet paintings, they have less prettiness, more grit.