“With Pleasure: Pattern And Decoration in American Art, 1972-1985”
Visual Art Source
April 4, 2020
The exuberant tumult at the heart, and mind, of American Pattern and Decoration, or P&D, pervades “With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art, 1972-1985,” a rich, if limited, survey of the sprawling movement. “Limited” because the show itself — as opposed to its impressively thorough catalog — concentrates on the work of fewer than fifty artists, most based in and around New York but including a healthy smattering of Californians, plus a midwesterner or two. Given its omissions, the show does capture the richness of visual reasoning and unapologetic dependence on exotic sources that kept the movement coherent and made it the distinctive style it was.
As both counterweight to and part and parcel of minimalism and abstract expressionism, P&D constituted a rejection of the self-important seriousness characterizing both previous movements, but simultaneously cultivated their elaborate sense of play. “With Pleasure” does not limit itself to “hard core” P&D practitioners, the extravagant decorators, the flamboyant performance artists, the emphatic feminists who were at the movement’s — and indeed the moment’s — heart. The show’s curatorial expansiveness makes reasonable inclusion of non-patterning African-American artists such as Sam Gilliam and Al Loving, patterning Pop artists like Billy Al Bengston, and singular figures such as Frank Stella. “With Pleasure” thus gives the lie to the notion, put forth by serious critics at the time, that painting was a moribund practice in the ‘70s. Indeed, no matter what alternative art histories the work of Joyce Kozloff, Kim MacConnel, Barbara Zucker, Ralph Bacerra, William T. Williams or Ned Smythe (among others) drew upon and proposed, the pattern painting movement reawakened a joyful yet rigorous passion for paint — whether on canvas, on clay or on walls — free of existential agony and puritanical iconoclasm.