The eloquent silences of Albert York and Judith Scott

Schwabsky_yesnomaybe_ba_img_0Barry Schwabsky at The Nation:

Generations of readers have puzzled over the opening lines of William Carlos Williams’s best-known poem: “so much depends / upon // a red wheel / barrow.” What exactly does depend on it? The poet, content to keep a secret, stays mum. There happens to be a red wheelbarrow in a 1974 painting by Albert York, whose work is now the subject of a beautiful retrospective in Manhattan at the Matthew Marks Gallery, through December 20. The wheelbarrow could be called pink, but I imagine that it’s a red that has faded from long exposure to the elements. And besides, York’s palette never included bright colors; pale, shadowy hues stood in for the whole spectrum. Whatever he painted he painted with uncanny concentration, as if nothing else existed for him except his perception or imagination of his subject in that moment. So much depended on it, though what he could never say. As the very first review of York’s work, in Art News in 1963, put it: “He is a specialist in very tiny, important differences.”

York, who died five years ago at age 80, was notoriously reclusive, so he might have been mortified by the show at Matthew Marks. But then, his viewpoint was singular: he would not attend exhibitions of his own work, and when he finally did—in 1989, at the Parrish Museum in Southampton, New York, just a few miles from his home—the result was devastating. What he’d done was “pretty bad. It has no relation to good painting,” he later told Calvin Tomkins, in the only interview he ever gave, for a New Yorker profile reprinted in the Matthew Marks catalog.

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