Franz Kline (1910-1962) had the power of a heavyweight and the guts of a stock-car racer. His headlong abstract paintings may not be the finest, but are among the fiercest of the postwar New York School.
He liked big canvases, big brushes, big heroic gestures, energy and speed. He seemed impatient, as if he merely blurted out his pictures. Beside his raw calligraphies the poured traceries of Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman's planes of color and de Kooning's subtle brushstrokes seem almost genteel.
Kline is rarely thought a colorist. In texts and survey courses he is almost always represented by his works in black and white.
"Franz Kline: The Color Abstractions," which opens today at the Phillips Collection, will revise his reputation. It shows us that the unfamiliar colors of his last works, those muddy greens, heavy reds and pale, acid yellows, are -- as colors -- just as energized and jarring as are the black calligraphies that earned him wealth and fame.
Much as he loved color, the late Duncan Phillips might have been disturbed -- as well as delighted -- by this striking show. For he sought peace in paintings, and Kline's works are never peaceful. They cry and zoom and roar. Phillips never bought them, although he was tempted, and once went so far as to place one on reserve.
Although Duncan Phillips was no dullard, the gallery he left us has, of late, seemed timid and uncertain. The Kline show breaks a pattern. Once it closes here it will travel on to Houston, Seattle and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Organized by Willem de Looper and Sasha Newman, it is the most original, timely and important exhibition that the Phillips Collection has offered us in years.
Kline's pictures still seem harsh and daring, but the first shock has passed by. We see his works more clearly now than we did when they were new two decades ago.
These may be abstract pictures, but among the things that strike us is how regional they seem. These are clearly New York paintings. The power of that city, and the closed-in views that its windows offer, are evoked by almost every picture in this show.
His exhibition opens with a curious little picture of 1945 that shows a blank, closed door. Though he later tugs at it, blasts it open, attacks it, that same framing rectangle, or its distorted skeleton, is never abandoned. It appears at the center of almost all his works.
His colors, too, are coarse, artificial, bilious. They are New York's hues. "Hell," he said, "half the world wants to be like Thoreau at Walden worrying about the noise of the traffic on the way to Boston; the other half use up their lives being part of that noise. I like the second half. Right?"
The abstract expressionists who hung out at the Cedar Bar were often dark and dour. Kline was an exception. His colleagues recall his wit, irony and humor.
"His relations," says Robert Mother-well, "were based on whether you were ready to have a ball." De Kooning called him "my best friend."
In 1960, two years before he died, Kline, that fan of noise and speed, bought himself a silver-gray Ferrari. He was the most active of the socalled painters. His show at the Phillips closes April 8.
Art touched by ideology almost always blares. Doris C. Colbert's doesn't. She is artist-in-residence at Howard University, where her small ink drawings are on view.
She tells us through her art that she is a woman and she is black. Yet her subtle pictures sing. They do not grab you by the collar; instead, they free your mind. The birds that arise in them are sometimes vultures, sometimes guardian eagles, sometimes birds of prey. With textures, lines, resists and washes she manages to conjure sea storms, quiet meadows, deserts, jungles, clouds.
There are no boundaries, no barriers, no harsh lines in her pictures. The stars of the flag drift effortlessly into the skies above the pyramids. The women that she draws seem continents, mothers, guardians and victims, and they seem all these things at once.
She is an intimist. Her pictures are not large. Few artists hereabouts can do as much with ink. Her techniques are astonishing and her quiet show is lovely. It will be on view through Tuesday at the art department's gallery.
Wayloon Chuang, whose anachronistic figure paintings are at Trocadero, 1608 21st St. NW, might have called his show "Homage to the Freer." The ethereal women that he paints recall Whistler's and Dewing's; they are the sort of genteel ladies Charles Lang Freer admired. And Chuang shares Freer's deep love for gold leaf and tradition and oriental art. One of the painter's demure models has been posed in a long gown, roses at her feet, before a screen by Hokusai. Others, drawn from Ingres, loll about before a rock garden in Japan.
Chuang, who draws meticulously, used to fill his art with a surreal scramble of figures, trees, machines, but the better pictures here have the single-minded, stylish assurance of late 19th-century art.
Trocadero also sells porcelains, rugs, Tibetan bronzes. Surrounded by such exotic objects, these pictures look just right. They will be there through March.
Un'ichi Hiratsuka, who is revered in his native Japan for reviving the tradition of the woodblock print, is now in his mid-80s and still going strong. A sumptuous volume devoted to his work has just been published by Kodansha. The book sells for $295. In the exhibit now at Bader's, 2124 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, there are original Hiratsukas available for less. Whether showing us Mt. Fuji or the banks of the Potomac, his masterful control does not waver. His show closes on March 3.