Mizner Park, Boca Raton’s haut Mediterranean “Lifestyle Center,” (read upscale mall) now provokes a certain sigh from a visitor. The economic downturn looks like it’s taking its toll. Vacancies. Closings. Fewer valet parkers. I’m on my way to see the Stanley Boxer retrospective at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, but I can’t find any Boxer signs and the show’s already been up for a couple of days.
Instead, there’s a giant banner –a large photo of Elvis flanked by two iconic images from art's past: M.C.Escher and Mary Cassatt. I get it. (Promote three giants and you get a bigger gate). I’m later told by a museum staffer that I should have gone out on Federal Highway to see the Boxer signage there. Guess I drove in from the wrong direction.
RememberingStanleyBoxer: A Retrospective 1946-2000. This show is quite a brave undertaking. If Boxer is regarded by many in the art world as one of America’s top mid-century abstract artists, there are just as many who dismiss him as an also-ran. Even today, reputations of great second -generation abstract expressionists like Joan Mitchell, Sam Francis, Jules Olitski or Shirley Jaffe are scrutinized through the lens of their predecessors like Pollock, Newman, De Kooning, Rothko and Kline.
Stanley Boxer was born in 1926. He was raised in Brooklyn, and at the outbreak of World War II, joined the Navy (illegally) at 16. After the war his brother’s money and the GI Bill helped him pay for the Art Students League in New York, then the avant-garde choice of art schools. It was there that he learned discipline, plugging away seven days a week in the studio learning his craft (he had been drawing obsessively since childhood), experimenting with surface, space, color, and push/pull effects to move shapes around the canvas. Around the time of his first solo show in 1953 he announced one of the dictums he lived by: “Art is all.” He also proclaimed “It’s our obligation to something other than self.” Boxer stayed true to his vision and devotion to life as an art “practitioner” –as he referred to himself. Practice, practice, practice was key. Over the years his output was enormous. In this show alone there are 60 works, including sculptures and works on paper.
The first p ainting (oil and material on canvas) that opens the show is from 1966, Two Figures on the Beach. Its gloriously muted colors –greens and a sort of creamy deKooning pink–, mysterious shadowy figures and a shimmering band of red pigment at the foot of the canvas are captivating. At other times Boxer will intersect a monochromatic canvas with a drizzle of yellow down its center. You’re never sure where the artist will take you next.
The influential critic Clement Greenberg once championed Boxer, hailing him as a color field painter to join the ranks of Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis. But Boxer would have none of it and steadfastly refused the stylistic label. But during the 70's and 80's he began creating poetic sounding labels of his own. An oil and mixed media offering, Plumagesoftempts from 1988 is one of his more striking efforts. But this run on sentence conceit, to my mind, wore pretty thin after awhile. The paintings that followed over the next three decades (providing him with his biggest market) were large scale abstractions with thick impasto brushwork and dense flamboyant surfaces. It’s as though at the end he’d throw anything on that would stick –seeds, string, glitter, gravel, wood shavings, and even roofing shingles. (At least Anselm Kiefer is reminding us of Germany's grim history through his thick layers of impasto.) This viewer felt exhausted by the end of the show. A big letdown since Stanley really “had me at hello” with that first painting of his when I walked into the gallery.
Images: Stanley Boxer (American, 1926-2000), Plumagesoftempts, 1988, oil and mixed media on canvas, 74 x 49 inches. Courtesy of the estate of the artist; Stanley Boxer (American, 1926-2000), Two Figures on the Beach, 1966, oil and materials on canvas, 11 x 53 inches. Courtesy of the estate of the artist.