Out of the Picture: Milton Resnick and The New York School
Edited by Geofferey Dorfman (Mid March Arts Press)
As one would expect, most books written by an author about an artist he adores will likely be lopsided, uncritical, and even indulgent, rhapsodically accepting the artist’s myth. In such cases, few genuine insights into the artist’s oeuvre are forthcoming.
The same may be said for Geoffrey Dorfman’s book on Milton Resnick and the New York School, although it is a compilation of interviews, transcriptions of the artists’ lectures and panel discussions, and an intimate remembrance by the artist’s wife, the painter Pat Pasloff. Nonetheless, Dorfman’s effort raises a few interesting questions and recurring perplexities. Admirers of Resnick’s work who do not know him personally, will find the book at once shocking and rewarding. Shocking because Resnick sounds just like the old embittered Roualt who had much to tell, but age jumbled the chronology of his memory; rewarding because of his macho toughness, which was almost obligatory for an artist of his generation. Despite its many wonderful anecdotes, Dorfman’s interview with Resnick is far too accommodating to the artist’s dogmatic and self-indulgent spontaneity. The same holds true for Resnick’s repetitive lectures at the New York Studio School. On the other hand, in the two panels with Leo Steinberg and Ad Reinhart, Resnick’s dialogue with his distinguished interlocutors is far more focused and illuminating.
Had Dorfman’s interview with Resnick more rigorously focused on the artist’s work rather than meandering off into his personal stories, it would no doubt have added some new insights into Resnick’s complicated body of work. As things stand, those who have followed Resnick’s evolution as a painter will most likely prefer to ignore the artist’s difficult temperament in exchange for the considerable virtues of his work. The monumental paintings from the early 1960s, for instance, embrace the overallness of the picture plane, frontal but loaded with a sea of oil paint, and have a rich, earthy emotional abundance that runs counter to Greenberg’s cerebral “flatness” doctrine. The passionate humanity of the late emblematic figure paintings brought Resnick into a spiritual kinship with Chaim Soutine, an artist whose influence he tried to resist in his early years as a painter. Resnick seems to have come to terms with his turbulent ancestor, to have found a way of walking in his spiritual footsteps without compromising his own sense of freedom. Again, these are issues more disciplined interviews might have illuminated.
However, Dorfman’s map of the artists’ various studios is an invaluable document. They mostly lived and worked in close vicinity to “The Club” on 10th Street, which helped them to create such a close-knit community, something which is lacking today among young artists. Written with great charm, Pat Pasloff’s personal memories of the period include affectionate accounts of artists such as Franz Kline, Aristodemus Kaldis, and Landes Lewithin.
TOMASSIO LONGHI is a contributor to the Rail.