The great value of
a good retrospective is that it enables us to view
the development of an artist over the course
of an entire career, as seen in an important
exhibition of paintings and drawings from the 1940s
to the present by the veteran artist Gene Hutner, at
Gallery 84, 24 West 57 Street, through October 29.
What we see here
is an artist whose work gets progressively stronger,
decade by decade, yet whose earliest paintings
clearly telegraph a major talent. The
impressive authority of Hutner's early work is
exemplified by two splendid oils with a Mexican
locale, one a market scene, making a rhythmic,
neo-Cubist statement in muted earth tones, the other
a dramatic nocturnal view of domed structures and
dark trees, rising majestically against a deep blue
sky. Also outstanding among Hutners's oils is
"Our Rooftop," a sun-drenched domestic
vista, as affectionate and joyous as a latter day
Bonnard, painted in 1965.
This show also
includes several splendid black and white ink
drawings, executed in the early seventies, in which
Hutner captures such subjects as female neds, rugged
rock formations, and the girders under the elevated
platform in Queensboro Plaza with a swift sureness
of line worthy of a Japanese Zen master. There
are also powerful large nudes in oil from
approximately the same period, their contours
showing a sensual monumentality, their compositions
energized by bold areas of mentality, their
compositions energized by bold areas of vibrant
however, was to become Hutner's primary mode of
expression, and his mastery of the medium is
strikingly evident in his early landscapes,
with their ruggedly angular forms, showing a
kindship to John Marin and Marsden Hartly.
Especially remarkable is a series of watercolors
painted on Martha's Vineyard, in which Hutner
achieves an exhilarating new sense of freedom,
with airy expanses of blue sky, sand, surf, and
scrubby patches of vegetation, depicted in clear,
luminous washes of color, lassoed by a sinuous line
that pulls the composition together.
Also outstanding is a watercolor from roughly the
same period, inspired by the girders under the
elevated platform in Queensboro Plaza, which grew
out of Hutner's ink drawings on the same theme.
Here, Hutner transforms a slightly grubby urban
subject, creating a composition of transcendent
beauty, with luminous areas of color contained, like
stained glass, within bold black outlines.
In the 80's,
Hutner embarked upon the very large watercolors that
are typical of his later work, venturing further
into total abstraction and Color Field explorations,
demonstrating beyond any shadow of a doubt that the
medium could be employed to make major aesthetic
statements on a par with any work in oil or acrylic.
Indeed, Hutner's large watercolors in his mature
abstract style are masterpieces that can stand
beside the best aquarelles of artist such as Winslow
Homer and John Marin, for they take the medium
further than any artist who precede him into the
realm of advanced contemporary aesthetics.
huge sheets of heavy rag paper with dense layers of
web-into-wet washes, he often employs the white of
the paper as another color (an especially effective
device to activate the edges in some compositions).
Hutner thus creates explosively lyrical statements,
such as "Ocean Bed," a major watercolor
from 1987, possessed of a deep and mysterious
retrospective at Gallery 84, of which he has been a
member for more than a quarter of a century, makes
clear that Gene Hutner is an important American
artist whose work is destined to endure, taking its
rightful place in the art history of our century.