As I swam around “Spilling Over: Painting Color in the 1960s,” the new exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, March 29–summer 2019, Bobby Darin’s 1958 song, “Splish Splash,” played on the soundtrack in my mind. If you don’t know the lyrics, they go like this:
“Splish, splash, I was takin' a bath
Long about a Saturday night, yeah
A rub dub, just relaxin' in the tub
Thinkin' everythin' was alright”
The song gets a lot more intense when Darin realizes that outside his bathroom door there’s a party goin’ on and, this being the late ’50s, he jumps right in and busts some moves:
“I was a-rollin' and a-strollin'
Reelin' with the feelin'
Movin' and a-groovin'
Splishin' and a-splashin', yeah”
Well, that was how I felt. I was splishin’ and splashin’ in pure color, and my bathtub runneth over. Figuratively speaking. Scheduled between the Whitney’s major Warhol exhibition, just ended, and the 2019 Biennial, opening May 17, this is a fun divertissement. In the lingo of the times, groovy.
Eighteen art stars of the period are there: Josef Albers, Helen Frankenthaler, Alex Katz, Morris Louis, Frank Stella and a hit parade of others. A glorious Kenneth Noland, “New Day” from 1967, featuring long horizontal stripes of pure color greets you off the eighth-floor elevator.
But for me, the real pacemaker is Alvin Loving’s “Septehedron 34” from 1970. The repro here hardly does justice to it. In fact, it conclusively proves the point that the only way to really see art is to see it in the flesh. While Loving’s paint appears to lie flat on the shaped canvas here, in reality his brushstrokes are dramatically textured. You can literally feel his hand sweeping across the canvas, propelling the brush back and forth. The colors, too, are a hundred times more intense than they are here. Neon bright. They burn the retina. There’s an urgency in the work and a whole lot of depth and passion.
All paintings in the show are from the Whitney’s permanent collection, many haven’t been seen by the public in decades. So, go ahead, take the plunge and splish splash.
Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort St., 212.570.3600, www.whitney.org