This exhibition marked Don Dudley’s first solo outing since 1985, and an impressive array of catalogues from the (now 80-year-old) artist’s past exhibitions was fanned out on the gallery’s desk. They largely documented group shows, from 1972 to 1989, in which Dudley appeared along with some of his better-known contemporaries—Richard Artschwager, Jennifer Bartlett, Anthony Caro.
The catalogues were yellowing, but the works on the wall—eight ambitious, Minimalist-inspired geometric pieces and six abstract Finish Fetish paintings on gently curved aluminum panels—felt fresh, optically powerful and utterly relevant. They made a case for the direct, optical pleasure that simple, well-wrought, color-based works (completely lacking in backward-looking irony or heavy-handed conceptualism) hold for contemporary viewers, no matter the work’s provenance or the artist’s age. Put another way: more octogenarian artists ought to grace Chelsea’s walls.
Pieces ranged from 1966 to 1979, with one 1974 series reconfigured for I-20.
Throughout his career, Dudley has cho- sen his materials and methods judiciously, achieving complex effects through impressively simple means. The Finish Fetish works, the earliest in the show, have a decidedly West Coast feel (indeed, the artist lived in California in the 1960s when he made them). Matte, pale colors have been applied in slow, subtle gradations, which seem to blend and change in relation to your point of view and the gallery’s ambient, natural light. (According to gallery literature, Dudley used Murano automotive enamel that, when sprayed onto surfaces, bonds at a 45-degree angle, “allowing for maximum light refraction.”) Lavender Prism (1966–67), for instance, is a 7-by-13⁄4-foot tapered rectangle of the titular color. At its center, rainbow hues (red/orange, yellow/white, blue/purple) appear in thin bands.
The rigid geometries, repeating patterns and bold, opaque colors of “Untitled (aluminum module),” 1974/2010, a series of thin-gauge aluminum panels (each 463⁄4 by 12 inches and crafted by Dudley after his move to New York City in the early 1970s), contrast with the “eye-of-the-beholder” vibe of the Finish Fetish works. In one piece, two deep maroon modules are stacked vertically and flanked by a bright white module on either side. Another consists of 18 panels in cooler hues of pale blue, dark blue and gray. All the panels in this series are interchangeable; they can be (and have been) configured to respond to a particular space.
Best, however, are the installations Dudley made in the late 1970s using 2-by- 8-inch pieces of Homasote (fiberboard made of recycled paper) slathered with a single, solid color of acrylic paint. He assembles them like “bricks” to create large shapes on the wall. The 20-foot-wide Red Corner (1979) contains 23 red rows that span one of the gallery’s corners to form an irregular octagon. Green Triangle (1978) is an 8-foot-high pyramid shape in pale green. Not a single pencil line was in evidence on the wall behind either of these painstaking installations. The payoff: form and color that seem to float of their own accord.
Photo: Don Dudley: Red Corner, 1979, acrylic on Homasote, 20 feet wide; at I-20