Coming Full Circle

Richard Pousette-Dart at the Art Museum (1st review)

2 minute read
“Garnet Realm,” Richard Pousette-Dart, © Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“Garnet Realm,” Richard Pousette-Dart, © Philadelphia Museum of Art.

If you have ever wondered why a few dabs of color or graphite on paper can be so fascinating, see this exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art before November 30. View it chronologically, beginning at the left of the entrance, and by the time you will have come full circle, you will feel as if you are on intimate terms with the artist. Described as an abstract expressionist, Pousette-Dart (1916-1992) revealed what the 20th century was about artistically. On view are 65 works on paper plus six of his notebooks — borrowed from museums, private collections, and his estate — that span his artistic career.

Born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, he attended Bard College briefly, then left to become part of the Abstract Expressionist group in New York with Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Robert Motherwell. Early on, his figurative drawings and sculpture were influenced by tribal art and cubism. The graphite and opaque watercolor paintings of the 1930s had recognizable subject matter, such as Red Samurai with Dog and Man Kneeling. Two Dancers (1937) seems to concentrate on orifices of the human body, almost abstract but very sexual.

Seeing in spite of myself

The 1940s initiated his abstract expressionist period with densely painted compositions such as Untitled, lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, of transparent and opaque watercolor, graphites, and pen and ink, with scraping on paper — one of my favorites of this period. I liked its central composition, open areas, and balance. Additionally, despite my resolve not to do this, I could see a starfish in the center plus an abstracted figure.

Garnet Realm, which is in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is a densely layered multimedia composition on a rich red background. Collage No. 28 employs cut and torn printed papers, silver metallic foil, and even a watchband. See what else you can find on it. Don’t miss the rather small watercolor and pen and ink painting, Untitled, on loan from MOMA.

Pousette-Dart gradually abandoned color during the 1950s. It seems as if he began a dialogue with himself, and his paintings gradually became more personal and introverted. He was consumed with shimmering color and flickering edges. Two works from the 1960s, Center of Remembering and Radiance White Center, are my favorites in the exhibition. They seem to get to the very soul of the artist.

Infused Intervals (1980) has a mystical, transcendental beauty. The exhibition ends with five paintings from the 1990s plus six notebooks displayed in cases. It fulfills his written comment: “The ecstasy of abstract beauty.” Enjoy!

To read another review by Robert Zaller, click here.

What, When, Where

Full Circle: Works on Paper by Richard Pousette-Dart. Through November 30, 2014 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia. 215-763-8100 or

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