A Singular Unpredictability

The improvised and admired work of Harriet Korman makes astonishing use of color

For many reasons there has been a lasting mystique surrounding the work of Harriet Korman. She is revered by her peers as well as by older and younger artists. Her new show at Lennon Weinberg is likely to perpetuate that particular regard.

Early 20th century abstraction or “non-objective painting” as it was then called, comes immediately to mind. This, however, is not Korman’s aim or interest. Her work comes more out of conceptual-process work of the 70s. Abstract is the key word here. Illusions, allusions, light, and space are assiduously avoided. The compositions are improvised and unpredictable. They fall into two categories, curvilinear and rectilinear. There are also multi-panel and single panel works.

The curvilinear works are based on a kind of looping line that creates overlapping shapes; the compositions work off the edge and confound conventional organizational logic by turning away from every readable image. The linear ones are arrangements of squares off-set by triangles connecting oddly to the edges.

The astonishing feature in all of the work is the use of color. It is pure out-of-the-tube oil paint, evenly applied, in strong, and generally uninflected, color. Korman uses little white, except occasionally on its own. The result is a really intense color experience in stasis.

Korman’s colors are anything but ingratiating. Browns and other earth tones appear next to full force greens, different reds are combined with full force blue. The compositions are such that each color gets the opportunity to interact with four or more others. The color relationships are almost always unexpected.

The paintings are mostly of a medium size and there are also a number of small ones. The smaller pieces are especially satisfying little blasts of active, yet monastic-feeling, color. A lot of people will look at and puzzle over these paintings. They are uncompromising and even what might be called difficult. The game plan is singular to Korman and will most likely remain so.

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