Art: Pure, Uncluttered Hedonism

The new retrospective show of paintings by Kenneth Noland—their stripes and chevrons wedged uneasily into the conchoid spaces of New York's Guggenheim Museum—provides a dismaying lesson in how critical fashions change. It is not very long since No-land's work, along with the stains of Morris Louis and the peach-bloom surfaces of Jules Olitski, was assigned an authority close to that of Holy Writ. This, formalist criticism said over and over again in the '60s, is the way painting must go: it is the inevitable future.

"Only an art of constant formal self-criticism," wrote the...

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