Phillips exhibiting little-known art of Pousette-Dart

March 08, 1992|By Chuck Myers | Chuck Myers,Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- Although widespread recognition was absent most of his career, the work of abstract artist Richard Pousette-Dart is now being recognized in a special display at the Phillips Collection.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, when Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning starred in the American abstract art movement, fellow artist Pousette-Dart chose to work quietly on the margin of their fame.

But this exhibit of more than 60 paintings, sculptures and works on paper offers a look at Mr. Pousette-Dart as a creative force that has continued to surge ahead, long after the monumental artistic movement has passed away.

The 75-year-old New York artist is one of the few surviving artists from the Abstract Expressionist era.

"We recognized that Pousette-Dart is one of the major artists of the second half of the 20th century whose work has not been shown sufficiently in the past," said Eliza Rathbone, chief curator at the Phillips. "His work has a spiritual quality, and it relates to nature."

Mr. Pousette-Dart was a part of what Life magazine in 1950 labeled the "Irascibles" -- a group of 15 New York-based artists that was the leading force behind the post-war Abstract Expressionist art movement.

Although he was a co-founder of the group's New York School, the introspective Mr. Pousette-Dart avoided many of the New York City haunts frequented by artists and found his artistic voice within a private world.

Unlike the harsh angular shapes of de Kooning or the angry splashes of Pollack that most people associate with the Abstract Expressionists, Mr. Pousette-Dart's work exhibits an air of tranquility, often dominated by soft sweeping circular forms.

"He has always loved circles," noted Ms. Rathbone, "as a kind of perfect form."

While drawing from the same pool of influences that other artists of the time used -- Surrealism, African Art, Picasso -- Mr. Pousette-Dart developed his own vision and style.

His works are not just striking, they draw in the viewer. "The painting is the experience for the viewer, but it doesn't mean to show a figure as much as it implies your involvement in the whole scale," explained Ms. Rathbone. "The scale of 'Radiance,' for instance, is big enough to envelop the person. It's a different way of thinking."

"Radiance," Mr. Pousette-Dart's large and mesmerizing piece painted between 1973 and 1974, lures the observer into a vast universe of engaging colors wrapped up in flowing centrifugal patterns. The soothing effect of the work is much like Claude Monet's masterpiece, "Water Lilies."

Similarly, the black-and-white works on paper hold their own mysterious qualities as delicate calligraphic black lines dance effortlessly over a sculptural-like white surface.

A strong bond to nature appears in his work with imagery, such as the marine life in his "Sea World."

The exhibit was organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, with many of the works lent from numerous private collections, including the artist's. This will be the final and sole East Coast site for the show. The Pousette-Dart exhibit closes April 26.

The Phillips Collection is located at 1600 21st St. N.W. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 7 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $5 for adults, $2.50 for seniors and full-time students, and free for visitors 18 and under.

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