Saturday, September 12th, 2009

Remembering Stanley Boxer: A retrospective, 1946-2000

This review from 2009 has been selected as our  TOPICAL PICK FROM THE ARCHIVES  while an exhibition of Boxer’s work continues at Spanierman Gallery through February 18, 2012

August 20–October 4, 2009
Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art
University of Richmond Museums
Richmond, Virginia 804 289-8276

tour in 2010:
February 11–March 28, 2010
Housatonic Museum of Art
Housatonic Community College
Bridgeport, Connecticut 203 332-5000

April 20–June 13, 2010
Boca Raton Museum of Art
Boca Raton, Florida 561 392-2503

Stanley Boxer, Atimethattime 2000.  Oil and mixed media on canvas, 32-3/8 x 65-5/8 inches.  Courtesy University of Richmond Museums.  © Estate of Stanley Boxer.  Photograph by Taylor Dabney.
Stanley Boxer, Atimethattime 2000. Oil and mixed media on canvas, 32-3/8 x 65-5/8 inches. Courtesy University of Richmond Museums. © Estate of Stanley Boxer. Photograph by Taylor Dabney.

The Stanley Boxer paintings I saw in Manhattan galleries in the 1990s made me think of stardust.  Boxer’s “mixed media” didn’t bear the loads of nostalgia that one finds in Robert Rauschenberg or Kurt Schwitters.  Rather, the ultra-fine glistening granules, sequins, delicate strings, sawdust, minuscule wood shavings and other mystery ingredients were chosen for purely aesthetic reasons.  How they looked mattered more than what they said, and how completely they could be integrated into airy paintings whose subtle surfaces of soft, luminous colors shimmered with hundreds of tiny points of darkling light.

Effortless as these paintings appear, they were only achieved after decades of evolution.  The progression is charted in this modest but satisfying retrospective.  Drawn almost entirely from the artist’s estate, and curated by Elizabeth Stevens, the show offers the first prolonged look at Boxer’s career since his death in 2000 at the age of 73.  Included are 48 paintings, 13 sculptures and 6 drawings. Four fine paintings are in the Harnett’s collection; the Housatonic Museum in Connecticut, and the Boca Raton Museum in Florida, to which the show travels, also own Boxers.  While the drawings are charming, and a few of the sculptures impressive, Boxer was a painter first and foremost.

The earliest works in the show are abstract -surrealist figure studies from Boxer’s student days in the later 1940s.  A native of Brooklyn, he served in the Navy during World War II, then attended the Art Students League. His first Manhattan show was in 1953, but the earliest pure abstraction on view is Green Winterwhite (1969). This tall, narrow collage-painting has five vertical strips of fabric, the center one pale green, the others pale gray.  The title is also the first with a compound word.  Such titles, inspired perhaps by James Joyce and by the compound words in German, would reach jawbreaking lengths.  The title of the show pays homage to this linguistic trope.

In the next few years, the artist created some handsome, relatively thinly-brushed abstractions, among them Lafayettecrossing (1972) and Sunbraid (1973).  By the end of the decade, he was layering his paint in fat dabs that covered his canvases and created an impression of “alloverness.” Clement Greenberg likened this work to Jules Olitski’s, but Boxer had arrived at his own synthesis independently. Lacedplumeinabam (ca. 1985) is a particularly fine example from this period.

In the ‘90s, Boxer attained his zenith, with the stardust paintings that so moved me originally. The last gallery in Richmond is the best, especially six magnificent paintings hanging together, from Aheartsdarkkeep (1992) on through Lostnight (1997) to Atimethattime (2000).   This last, serene horizontal has fields of snowy whites and tans, with browns and sawdust at its lower corners, plus showers of tiny brown objects that resemble raisins or precious ores, mostly surrounded by individual little creamy puddles.  It is like a miraculous snowfall that warms as it is cooling.

Stanley Boxer, Somewhereamarbleman, 1990.  Mixed media on canvas, 50 x 50 inches.  Courtesy of Spanierman Modern
click to enlarge