The art critic responsible for "14 Canadians: A Critic's Choice" is Washington's Andrew Hudson. He has long championed a certain kind of painting - he likes his pictures colorful and open, big instead of small and more or less abstract. Those who share his preferences, and there are many in this city, will enjoy the show he's brought us. It's at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and it goes on view today.
Most veteran gallery goers here will see it with nostalgia. Hudson's exhibition is anything but alien. It's exuberance, its scale and its shared belief in progress - Hudson likes to speak of "mainstream" modern painting - all bring to mind the shows one used to see on P Street when Washington color painting seemed the hottest thing around.
How confident we were then, how happy with The New. Our painters searched for "formats" then (which changed from show to show), they used yards and yards of canvas, they thought color was the key.
Those heady days are over now, for Washington at least, but Hudson thinks he sees just that sort of blossoming in Canada today.
Especially in Toronto. Hudson so admires the works of art he found there that he dares a prophecy: "I forsee," he writes, "that it is possible, if the eight Toronto painters in the exhibition continue to develop . . ., (that) city could become the next most important center of painting - for I don't see as vital and independent a group of new painters located anywhere else, not even in New York."
I wouldn't go that far, though of the eight Toronto painters here - David Bolduc, Alex Cameron, Paul Fournier, K.M. Graham, Howard Simkins, Paul Sloggett, Daniel Solomon, and the late Jack Bush - two gave me great pleasure. They are Jack Bush and Fournier, both of whom delight in gay and brilliant color.
Cameron's colors aren't so hot (he relies to much on the easy energy derived from placing warm tones against cold ones) but there is something quite original in his whacky drawing. Sloggett, who wets bars and corrugations floating in his pictures, is a gifted painter, too, but the Grahams here on display seemed little more than giant doodles: I found Sumkins' paintings clogged, oppressive, and Solomon's decorative but derivative. Only in their numbers do the painters from Toronto dominate this show.
Charles Gagnon, who has learned much from abstract expressionism and more from Jasper Johns, and comes from Montreal, is in no way their inferior. Bruce O'Neil, who paints fierce, wintery abstractions and lives in Calgary, and Dorothy Knowles, who does dappled landscapes and hails from Saskatoon, also do just fine.
The show is fun to look at Joe Shannon of the Hirshhorn has installed it brilliantly. Using movable partitions, he has established many vistas. His composition works.
Hudson does love Canada. Though he is an Englishman who resides in Washington, he spent four years in Saskatchewan so happily that he sometimes says, "My life began in Saskatoon." He met critic Clement Greenberg there, and painters Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski, and he still acknowledges he is in their debt.
Something he first glimpsed there, Greensbergian moderism mixed with something peculiarly Canadian, is apparent in his show. One feels something French here (Fournier brings to mind Matisse, as Knowles evokes the subtle colors of Cezanne), and something English, too. Alan Reynolds, the lone sculptor here, does planar constructivist abstractions made of painted wood whose pedigree suggests something by Ben Nicholson out of Tony Caro. But Canada, after all, is closer to our country than it is to Europe. The feel, the look, the issues of American color field painting dominate this show.
In short, the "new" Canadian artists Hudson has selected do not look all that new. But newness isn't everything. He has, no doubt, excluded other sorts of art being done in Canada today, but that's alright with me.
Hudson's show is full of color and enthusiasm. "My hope," he writes, "is that this exhibition, like a concert of music, will provide enjoyment." If you like large color paintings, it will do just that. It closes April 10.