Embracing Jules Olitski

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The New York Sun

The inaugural exhibition of FreemdanArt begins today with a series of large-scale paintings by Jules Olitski that until recently have been kept out of view. In 2009, Ann Freedman, then still president and director at Knoedler Gallery, approached the Olitski estate about the possibility of a show of works from the 1960s. Lauren Olitski Poster, the artist’s daughter and a fine painter in her own right, introduced her to a suite from that period that her father “had kept for himself, tucked away years ago,” many of which had never been shown.

That exhibition never materialized. After Knoedler unexpectedly dismissed Freedman later that year, the Olitski estate canceled it, citing concerns about the change of leadership. Instead the works went to Hackett Mill Gallery in San Francisco, which showed them in July 2010. The critic DeWitt Cheng called the paintings “a revelation – insouciant, fresh and undated.”

Ms. Freedman has returned with a new gallery of her own, representing Olitski, Lee Bontecou, and Frank Stella, all former Knoedler artists. She opens with Embracing Circles, a revision of the San Francisco show with some new additions, and it promises to be every bit as revelatory. Critical reaction to the artist since the 1970s has largely been conducted as a proxy war against the critic Clement Greenberg, who noted, “What happens when a real chance is taken with color can be seen from the shocked distaste that the ‘pure’ painting of Jules Olitski elicits among New York artists.” Olitski deserves to be seen afresh, and on his own terms. This exhibition affords the opportunity for both.

Jules Olitski: Embracing Circles, 1959-1964 opens this evening, 6-8 PM at FreedmanArt, 25 East 73rd Street, between Madison and Fifth avenues, 212-249-2040, freedmanart.com.

Franklin Einspruch is an artist and writer.

The New York Sun

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