Al Held made “Upside Down Triangle” in 1966, and the work is now in “Al Held: Alphabet Paintings”, a lovely show of the artist’s Color Field pictures at Cheim & Read gallery in New York. As the show’s title makes clear, however, the pictures don’t really fit into the Color Field category, except at first glance. Many of the paintings seem instead to be massive, cropped enlargements of a sign-painter’s letterforms, complete with shadowed “edges” included to give the letters depth. This picture isn’t actually titled after the letter it shows, as some of its brethren are, and it’s hard to decide on any one character it might represent – but the reference is there nevertheless. That pulls it out of the orbit of Kenneth Noland and late Barnett Newman and other Greenbergian abstractionists and into the stranger, more interesting worlds of Ed Ruscha and even of Garry Neill Kennedy, the Canadian conceptualist. By sourcing his abstractions in script, Held gives up on the utter freedom of purely non-figurative art and instead seeks the grounding and limits imposed by the reality around us.
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