From 1957 to about 1964, the spirit of art in New York City was moving in directions for which Abstract Expressionism had not prepared us. By 1965, the strokes, swipes, drips, and splatters of New York painting had given way to cool, laconic representations of the most ordinary of ordinary objects. It was a transformation in artistic culture in which intellectual rewards replaced, or at least supplemented, visual ones, and the whole philosophical face of art was beginning to disclose itself in a particularly vivid way.

I saw Knox Martin's paintings as embodying this transformative moment. In them, I thought, the tension between the two rival philosophies of art could be felt. the way I saw them: they appeared at first glance to be collages, made of large, irregular, overlapping swatches of patterned cloth. Some of the swatches were striped, some appeared to be decorated with circles. It must be conceded that stripes and circles belong to the vocabulary of one kind of abstract art, while the irregular shapes, which felt as though they had been torn from bolts of material, belonged to another.

So one might properly claim that Martin was synthesizing an expressionist abstraction with a geometrical one. For me, however, Knox's stripes and circles evoked the life of the circus: the striped tents, the loudly patterned costume of clowns. And Martin's colors—pistachio, raspberry, banana—were festive and impudent. That is why I felt that the paintings referred to vernacular reality, as much so as Campbell Soup cans or Coca Cola bottles. The circus was a recurring theme in modernist art, and I thought it appropriate for late modernist painting to reduce the circus to patterned rags expressive of its raucous gaiety.

—Arthur C. Danto, 1998.

Knox Martin

(1923- )

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