The cavalcade of art critics presenting their assessment of Andrew Wyeth and his work has begun. There’s New York’s influential Jerry Salz and the New York Times’s Larry Rohrter bring us a survey of critical opinion, like this comment from Yale’s Dean of the School of Art, Robert Storr:
“Wyeth was an anti-modern painter,” Mr. Storr said. “He did paintings that never changed, in a style that never changed. His image is one of stasis in a world that changed dramatically around him, and for my money that is a conservative position. It is in many ways a futile exercise, but he did it with great energy and conviction.”
Salz picks up the conservative theme in his conclusion:
Regardless of how he has been viewed by the art world, Wyeth is not a lost cause, or merely conservative. He worked constantly, depicting the world with a certain coolness that feels modern, and he cast his scenes in a light that feels very photographic, and therefore timely. Someday Wyeth may enjoy his time in the art-world sun. In the meantime, we can see him as a very particular strain of American: As intellectually independent as he was stylistically conservative, a family man with a streak of cruelty, a son with something to prove, and possessing a nose-to-the-grindstone attitude of “I did it my way.”
And New York’s critic holds out some hope for Wyeth’s fans that his obscurity might not last forever:
In the eighties that almost changed, when Wyeth released what became known as the “Helga” paintings. All of a sudden he was being talked about everywhere. The images, many of them nudes, depicted a neighbor of Wyeth’s, Helga Testorf. Made over a period of around fifteen years, the pictures somehow became the subject of media scrutiny. For a moment the whole country turned into a small town, as people speculated about whether or not the married Wyeth had had an affair with his younger neighbor. The pictures themselves are standard watercolors, sketches, and paintings; mostly they have the look of the illustrations that were in the Joy of Sex book. The work is realist, with dashes of brushiness and wisps of flat shadow. In one of the books published to accompany the series, there are gnomic quotes from Wyeth next to some of the images. Next to one watercolor of the statuesque Helga standing in a doorway, Wyeth records, “… I became entranced with the light splashing all over her body.” One is tempted to think, “I bet you were,” when you notice the way he fetishizes her Viking-like braid resting on her pendulous breasts.
Saltz: Andrew Wyeth, a Particular Kind of American (New York/Culture Vulture)
For Wyeth, Both Praise and Doubt (New York Times)