It’s small wonder that one of the Lower East Side’s signature spaces is mounting this mini survey of the French artists who made up the 1970s Supports/Surfaces group: The work looks like it could have been made yesterday by exactly the sort of artists who show at places like Canada. One in particular, Louis Cane’s 1970 robotlike arrangement of red, yellow and blue rectangles, appears almost identical to Joe Bradley’s 2006 paintings presented by this very gallery.
The members of Supports/Surfaces were an odd lot with equally odd aims. They came from southern cities like Nice, and several were veterans of Algeria’s war of independence against France. Their disillusionment with that defeat explains their attraction to radical ideologies like Maoism, which informed their interest in the color-field theories of Clement Greenberg. They were also deeply enamored with Matisse, filtering his colorist approach through the deconstructive tendencies common to late-’60s/early-’70s art.
The results consist of richly hued, minimalist/abstract compositions thinly applied to loose canvas or other unconventional materials. Color, in the view of the artists, defined a painting’s surface, accounting for the second part of the group’s name, while the use of unstretched fabric, absent the traditional wooden frame or support, accounted for the first.
But again, it is the work’s contemporaneity—evident in Claude Viallat’s winged form covered in blue and yellow Matisseian blobs, Jean-Michel Meurice’s chevrons cut into layered sheets of pink and orange vinyl, and Noël Dolla’s Newmanesque zip on gauze—that startles. In its own day, the efforts of Supports/Surfaces were largely overlooked by American critics. Their revival is an object lesson, if one is still needed, that art history remains as malleable as the paintings on view.—Howard Halle