Can 5 paintings be a show? Can it be enough to drag yourself to 73rd street? Let me ask you a better question, what makes a gallery show (read: for profit but still an exhibition) worth its salt? John McLaughlin is a fine example of someone who can do a lot with a little. For me this show was worth it. Waxter van Doren, formerly Greenberg van Doren is now on 73rd Street in a decidedly non-galleryish space and opening with this show. They have done well to show a few works, rather than overload us with too much of a good thing.
John McLaughlin made concise abstract work that makes my brain resonate like a tuning fork. The line is clean and the image is pure and everything falls into place. Like the Malevich wall installed in the Inventing Abstraction exhibition show at MoMA, these 4 paintings (one is in the reception area) become the walls. They physically support the space. Its not so much as they belong in the room, rather that the room can disappear while they are present. Not far away Madison Avenue shop windows are overdressed with lavish clothes and jewelry while these paintings, on the 2nd floor of a grand townhouse, are humble in their reserve.
I love that this show does so little to make me love it. The stripped down forms might seem too sparse, but they keep my mind abuzz with thoughts of aboriginal art, circuitry, architecture and Ikea brand floor rugs. McLaughlin hasn’t over painted. He found the lines he needed to and made beautiful art. Immersing himself in Japanese art in the 30’s, he found his inspiration in 500 year old Japanese painting as well as Piet Mondrian and Kasmir Malevich. He got lumped in with the post war crew in Southern California (he settled there in the 40’s) in the 60’s, but he didn’t quite fit. I guess it is easier to see where he fits in the timeline of abstraction rather than trying to pinpoint his contemporaries. In my mind, the lineage is clear from Mondrian to McLaughlin to Ryman.
I was happy to go out of my way to be reminded that a small show of great paintings is worth the effort. How many others like McLaughlin are out there and have been overlooked?