04/14/2011 04:42 pm ET | Updated Jun 14, 2011

Kenneth Noland: Paintings 1958-1968

Kenneth Noland: Paintings 1958-1968
March 17-April 30, 2011
Mitchell-Innes & Nash (534 W. 26th Street)

In their first solo exhibition of paintings since acquiring the Estate of Kenneth Noland, Mitchell-Innes & Nash presents a strong selection of early works on canvas. In this small but tight survey, important compositions from his iconic circle series as well as other seemingly more abstract and experimental works are on view.

Considered a seminal Abstract Expressionist and then a leader of the Minimalist movement, Noland rose to prominence in the 1960s becoming most well known as a radical Color-Field painter.

Having studied at Black Mountain College alongside the incontrovertible Josef Albers, Noland was well versed in color theory especially focused on the effects of the natural world and sensitivity to light evident in the work of Klee and Mondrian decades before.

The beautifully arranged assortment of canvases provides an excellent means of contextualizing his oeuvre, darting from monumental Chevron-esque works to careful circular meditations that function almost so as to provide the viewer with insight into Noland's own psyche and the physical manifestation of his practice. Paintings reflect the linearity and structure of Stella and the almost vaporous aesthetic of Morris Louis' mature compositions.

Courtesy of Mitchell-Innes & Nash

The most compelling works, namely "Askew," 1958, expose the inherent struggle Noland underwent while formulating and developing his own stylistic identity at this critical juncture alongside Louis. In "Askew," Noland paints a series of concentric circles with Magna, a predecessor to the form of acrylic paint used today, employing a stained wash prevalent in early Color Field painting.

Noland's seemingly gestural, active composition is put into motion with loose strokes and tiny splattering of paint extending beyond the confines of the outermost circle. The palette darkens and intensifies, unifying the composition and drawing focus towards the dense, dark center. Murky, thin layers of paint occupy what could have easily been negative space between geometrics shapes.

Courtesy of Mitchell-Innes & Nash
Here, one notes the elements of experimentation and abstraction Noland ruminated over and toyed with in his early pictures. While the circle motif foreshadows the later, more linear constructions that often define Noland's career, this painting lacks that same rigidity and thus shimmers and dances. "Askew" draws the viewer in and floats away perpetually growing and demanding attention.

Courtesy of Mitchell-Innes & Nash

The importance of this sort of exhibition within the context of Chelsea is crucial to the development and progress of contemporary art. Without exhibitions that draw attention to the development of abstraction, it becomes difficult to contextualize the oft-derivative works of many up-and-coming artists. This is not to say new work cannot function as progressive and expand on canonical figures like Noland, rather that we all need a periodic reminder of what came before to consciously look ahead.