It’s hard to image that the paintings in “Openness and Clarity: Color Field Works From the 1960s and 1970s” at Honor Fraser gallery were once flash points in a battle over the meaning of art and the meaning of life. Back in the ’60s, works by most of the eight artists in this exhibition organized by independent curator Hayden Dunbar were lightning rods that attracted loads of hot-headed commentary, not to mention the preposterous convictions that often went with it.
Today, these large- and medium-sized abstractions seem to be having too good a time strutting their nutty stuff to be anything other than fun-loving explorations of color, shape and space.
“The brighter the better” scream the expanses of supersaturated color in Jules Olitski’s “Z” and “Mushroom Joy.” The same goes for Joseph Albers’ and Robert Motherwell’s celebrations of orange, orange and more orange, intensified by crisp edges and precise lines.
“Dumbfound,” a metallic green sculpture by Anthony Caro, is more pictorial than any of the paintings, except those by Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler, who bring dreamy depths into the picture.
Kenneth Noland’s four paintings hint at his range: from the suave confidence of “Lift Off” to the off-balanced wackiness of “Angle of the Night,” a six-sided painting that should fail horribly but somehow works perfectly.
Two shaped paintings by Frank Stella also work wonders, their eccentric shapes and weird tertiary tints providing unlikely pleasures.
The only misstep involves the largest Stella, which has no business being in a commercial gallery. As part of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s permanent collection, it is part of the public trust. Controversy returns to these works, although with far less fanfare than the first time.
Honor Fraser, 2622 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 837-0191, through Aug. 2. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.honorfraser.com