Art: How They Got That Way

The big paintings in the main gallery of Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum are mostly slashing and explosive, but so familiar has modern abstraction become—at least to hardened gallerygoers—that even the most violent of canvases or aggressive of sculptures no longer jar the eye or jangle the nerves. What was new about the Atheneum exhibition was really what was old—samples of these same artists' earlier work that had been hung in the adjoining smaller galleries. In a sense, the show (see color) consisted of 45 instant retrospectives that revealed how 45 of the nation's top...

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