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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Sandler brings perspective to Rose exhibit

Published: March 26, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

<i>PHOTO BY Barbara Stark/The Hoot</i>

PHOTO BY Barbara Stark/The Hoot

On Tuesday night, a small crowd gathered to hear acclaimed art critic and historian Irving Sandler speak about the artist Hans Hoffmann, who currently has a show at the Rose Art Museum. The evening began with an introduction by the director of the museum, Michael Rush. He extolled events such as this, “to exhibit great art and to invite great minds to speak to us,” as one of the reasons why the Rose is such an integral part of Brandeis University. His speech highlighted the significance of the Rose, and reminded everyone that while its future is unclear, it is important to take advantage of everything the museum has to offer while it is still around.

The speaker Irving Sandler wrote extremely influential books chronicling the history of art from abstract expressionism to post-modernism. He explained that from a life spent socializing with artists, he had “ceased to be an art historian and had become art history.”

Perhaps the most fascinating part of Sandler’s lecture was about meeting Hofmann. Described as having a striking aura, Hofmann cordially offered Sandler a painting during their first meeting. Sandler went on to sit in on one of Hofmann’s classes. He said that the famous teacher knew exactly how to tweak his students’ paintings in order to make them vibrate with harmony. The classroom setting was socially energetic, allowing students to learn as much from each other as they learned from Hofmann.

Greenberg and Rosenberg, two of this century’s most revered art critics, disagreed on almost everything except for Hofmann’s colossal talent. The fact that his work brought together their two fundamentally different schools of thought shows the sheer power of his work. Sandler stressed the point that the reason Hofmann’s work was so exceptional was because it spanned the history of art, incorporating traditionalism and radicalism. Hofmann constantly looked to the recent past, particularly impressionism, fauvism and cubism, for inspiration. Taking these ideas, Hofmann wanted to advance them and create something new.

The result was colorful, often improvised work that used a variety of painting techniques to reach a spiritual effect through Hofmann’s push/pull theory. His roots in French modernism were not seen in other American artists’ works, separating Hofmann from many of his contemporaries. For a long time, Hofmann’s work was criticized for its refusal to acknowledge the dark, violent aspects of life. In a time without happy endings, there seemed to be no place in art for colorful, exuberant works.

This sentiment changed in the mid-1950s, when the art world finally embraced Hofmann’s joyous style of painting. The happiness in Hofmann’s work seemed to be contagious on Tuesday; when asked about seeing the Chimbote murals for the first time, Sandler excitedly answered that they “sing.” If you have not been to see the show Hans Hofmann: Circa 1950, then you are truly missing, out. The show runs through May 17th, so be sure to catch the joy of Hofmann’s work and take a trip to the Rose Museum.