Wall Street Journal: A False Sense of Security and Vivid Views of the World

September 12, 2014

Peter Plagens

Karel Appel at Blum & Poe New York
By: Peter Plagens 

It's odd to see flat-out expressionism turned into art history. Although the colors and impasto in Karel Appel's "Flying Head" (1974) look, with the exception of a hairline crack here and there, much like they probably did when the painting first came off the easel, there's a mysterious vibe of past-ness about them. Odder still is that an earlier, much more Cubistically polite—though intensely hued—painting, "Big Bird Flying Over the City" (1951), packs more punch. Reckless abandon ages more noticeably than does careful composition.

Mr. Appel (1921-2006) was the most prominent CoBrA artist. (The acronym derives from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam.) This small selection of his art from 1947-81 reveals just how genuinely inspired he was by the directness of the art of children and mental patients, and makes today's "new casualist" abstract art feel anemic by comparison, because it's got nothing to be expressionist about except expressionism.

(Memo to whoever writes the gallery press releases: Please don't throw the likes of Miles Davis, Jackson Pollock and Sarah Vaughan under the wet, academic blanket of "cultural producers.")

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