olitski: out with a bang


This exhibition of late paintings of Jules Olitski, who died earlier this year at age 84, is subtitled “A Celebration” — an apt name for such festive and colorful paintings. But these works equally bring to mind volcanic eruptions or intergalactic collisions. Worked with impasto so intense that the encrusted surfaces appear to belong as much to bas relief as to paint on canvas, they emulate geological formation both in physical fact and suggested scenes. Even if the world ends with a whimper, Jules Olitski departed with a bang.

The subtitle is also apropos for a gentle giant of an abstractionist who adopted as his personal, anti-entitlement motto: “expect nothing, do your work, and celebrate.” “Bathsheba Reverie — Yellow and Black” (2001), like all works here in acrylic paint on canvas, has at its base a disintegrating orb in fiery yellow, which dominates the composition, and is cracking, seemingly under the sheer weight of its drying pigment. It inhabits a rich but ambiguous pocket of space that is itself contained by a monochrome purple ground just spied around its edges. Roughly an oval shape, this space looks like a puddle still in formation, perhaps about to submerge the entirety of the purple ground: Lush and painterly, it has an atmospheric quality that recalls a sky by Constable or Turner.

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