Exhibit of the week
Hans Hoffmann: Circa 1950

Rose Art Museum
Waltham, Mass.
Through April 5

Brandeis University sparked an outcry last month when it announced plans to close its Rose Art Museum, said Sebastian Smee in The Boston Globe. Should that actually occur, this exhibition dedicated to abstract artist Hans Hoffmann might be “one of the last mounted by the museum.” One can only hope that the current uproar doesn’t overshadow this “bold attempt to revive Hoffmann’s reputation.” For decades, Hoffmann has been better known as a teacher and theorist than as a painter in his own right. After cutting his teeth in the German avant-garde, Hoffmann emigrated in 1930 to America, where he became “one of the most important influences” on such painters as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko. He never matched their fame, though, probably because he never developed a distinctive visual style, preferring restless experimentation. You can hardly believe that all of the canvases here—“full of thrusting energy and frequently beautiful”—were made by a man who was almost 70.
The heart of the exhibition is a group of “monumental paintings” not seen in America for half a century, said Chris Bergeron in the Framingham, Mass., Metrowest Daily News. First shown in a 1950 New York gallery exhibition, these bright, vibrant canvases spent the past 50 years at a museum in Spain. “The motley surfaces of these nine paintings bubble and erupt like lava running down the sides of a volcano.” Reunited with smaller works that Hoffmann created around the same time, they reveal a mature artist “at the height of his powers.” It’s fascinating to see how Hoffmann applied his influential theories about painting to his own works.

Hoffmann believed that colors and patterns could directly evoke an “emotional jolt,” said Greg Cook in The Boston Phoenix. He also believed in improvisation and that “overlapping shapes and suggestions of shadows could create a dynamic ‘push-pull’ tension.” These ideas were a theoretical foundation of abstract expressionism. Yet not all of Hoffmann’s works are entirely abstract. Several sketches seem to have grown out of “abstracted renderings of what might be a bird.” Paintings such as Sketch—Chimbote Mosaic Cross use the religious symbol as a basis for visual experiments. “Hoffmann layers vivid colors, scraping and scrubbing them, as well as slapping on lush, thick glops.” Hans Hoffmann: Circa 1950 will give viewers a lot to think about—even though it may leave them “still mulling over whether his painting was as important as his thinking.”