When I was a young and ambitious curator of paintings, I was assigned to organize an exhibition of Gene Davis paintings. You know them, the big stripey ones where each stripe of color is bright and the same width as the next. They’re called color field paintings and art historians write a lot about how color becomes the subject of the painting; about its roots in Abstract Expressionism, and its lead-in to Pop and Op Art; about measured lines and stained canvasses.
At that time I thought that the Davis paintings were pretty, and I struggled to see more than that. Pretty wasn’t going anywhere interesting. I went to Washington to talk to the artist. He showed me his studio, in the basement of a small nondescript home, and he answered my questions the briefest possible responses. I have no doubt that he resented this young, inexperienced idiot (me) with the nerve to question him and his art. Perhaps he sensed disdain although in my defense I wasn’t disdainful; I was intimidated by his barking bull terrier, the mess of creativity in his studio, by his single-minded obsessive interest, and yes, by his success.
The show went up and it was really beautiful. From my vantage point today, I realize that’s enough.