Pop abstraction: Nicholas Krushenick at the Tang

Last week at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, I got a chance to catch the Nicholas Krushenick retrospective, which is up through the end of August. Krushenick, who died in 1999, is best known for fusing popular culture with non-objective abstraction. The result is an aggressive, eye-popping style, full of bold line, highly saturated color, and visual ambiguity. “We are stuck with three basic colors and thirteen basic shapes on this universe,” Krushenick said in 1978. “Those sixteen elements are all we have. I think it’s unfair, so I am trying to figure out a way to unstick ourselves, to expand our intellect one more time.”

[Image: Nicholas Krushenick, installation view at the Tang.]

Nicholas Krushenick, installation view. Earliest work is on the wall at right.

 Nicholas Krushenick, Greensboro, 1975, acrylic on canvas. Collection of Tommas W. Papa.

It was an audacious agenda set by an immensely talented, assured artist. Yet, until last year, Krushenick remained obscure. Although he is considered one of the founders of Pop Art, and briefly showed at Pace in the 1970s, in his lifetime Krushenick never enjoyed the renown that his friends like Al Held did. In the late 1950s, Krushenick, his brother John, and his cohort, including Yayoi Kusama and Held, opened an artist-run space called Brata to show idiosyncratic, highly inventive work that was being made outside the mainstream art community. From 1977 to 1991, he showed at various regional spaces, commercial galleries and universities, and commuted to Washington, DC, to teach at the University of Maryland’s main campus in College Park, where Anne Truitt was also on the faculty. Only in 1997, two years before his death, did he begin to show at Mitchell Algus Gallery, which was then in Soho. Recently, after several years with Algus Greenspon, Krushenick’s estate has been represented by Gary Snyder and Garth Greenan in Chelsea, and his work has been in several exhibitions.

 Nicholas Krushenick, Wire Mill Road, 1972, acrylic on canvas. Estate of NK, courtesy of Garth Greenan Gallery.

The Tang has organized an impressive show, starting with early work that features relatively subdued color and thick paint. As his style evolved, the colors became brighter and more highly saturated, and Krushenick incorporated shaped panels and extremely flat surfaces. In his later paintings, previous iterations of a work are no longer visible below the top layer. Anticipating the bold patterns of Marimekko fabrics and 1970s super-graphics, the surfaces are so uninflected they seem printed rather than handmade. Although Krushenick’s work from the 1960s is defiantly non-objective, it is rife with spatial illusions and their contradictions that burst off the canvas. Seeing these paintings is like having an exuberant conversation with an articulate, animated, and eccentric old friend. Thanks to the Tang and Garth Greenan for giving a forgotten but exciting artist his due.

 Nicholas Krushenick, Mother of Plastic, 1985, acrylic on canvas. collection of Charles E. King, Maryland.
 Nicholas Krushenick, CBGB, 1994, acrylic on canvas. Private collection, California.
Installation view.

Installation view.

Installation view.

Nicholas Krushenick: Electric Soup,” organized by Ian Berry. Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY. Through August16, 2015.

Related posts:
John Yau: Observation and abstraction
Holland Cotter: Unadventurous painting is everywhere (at least in New York)
Abstract Friday in Bushwick and the Bronx

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Two Coats of Paint is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. For permission to use content beyond the scope of this license, permission is required.

Two Coats of Paint is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To use content beyond the scope of this license, permission is required.

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