When Abstraction Was Funny
|John Altoon, Ocean Park Series #8, 1962. Norton Simon Museum|
Guston spent his formative years in Los Angeles, attending Manual Arts High with Jackson Pollock and becoming acquainted with the L.A. branch of the Ku Klux Klan. But Guston's career was spent in and around New York. The NSM show presents four lapsed abstractionists identified with L.A. and the Bay Area.
|Joe Goode, John Altoon in his Studio, about 1968. (c) Joe Goode|
The works here are not funny ha-ha, but neither are they just funny-strange. John Altoon trained as a commercial artist at Chouinard and produced erotic cartoons as well as semi-abstract paintings. Two paintings here feature stripes, an in-joke referring the artist's taste in clothing. In his drawings and lithographs Altoon invented a private language of phallic and yonic forms, executed in the nervous hand of his cartoons. Altoon died young, but he has become an artist's artist appealing to Mike Kelley, Laura Owens, Monique Prieto, and others.
|Installation view, "Alternate Realities: Altoon, Diebenkorn, Lobdell, Woelffer" at Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena|
|Richard Diebenkorn, Bottle, 1960. Norton Simon Museum (gift of the artist)|
|Richard Diebenkorn, untitled (lithograph), 1970|
Of the four artists here, Diebenkorn is by far the best known (and the least funny, which may be no coincidence). Three spectacular paintings (including Bottle) aren't funny at all. But Diebenkorn's inclusion caused me to find humor in certain lithographs. An untitled 1970 print can read as a deadpan response to Hockney's pools.
|Emerson Woelffer, Homage to Duchamp (lithograph), 1970|
The title supplies the punchline in Emerson Woelffer's Homage to Duchamp. The minimalist, cut-paper form is revealed as Duchamp's famous profile of George Washington, created from an American flag.
Like most NSM exhibitions, this one is drawn from the storeroom, from an amazing trove of then-contemporary art assembled before Norton Simon's takeover.
|Frank Lobdell, November, 1961, 1961|
|Emerson Woelffer, Winterscape, 1955|