If Blackburn and Mr. Barnet compact energy, Elmer Bischoff’s #35 (1978) disperses it with jittery aplomb. And James Kelly, an artist unknown to me before this show, channels the natural world at its most volcanic; his appropriately titled Hurley-Burley (1991) is a churning amalgam of Turner’s dramatic topographies, Marsden Hartley’s epic forms and, of all things, Florine Stettheimer’s acidic palette.
Sculpture is less abundant. Ensconced in the lobby gallery, Lawrence Fane’s totemic Monument (1996), a life-size poplar carving, greets viewers with intimidating stateliness. Isaac Witkin tapped into a similar vein of primitivism, but to more lyrical, lighthearted effect. His bronze Study for Eolith (1994) is an ascending stack of horizontal, bonelike forms. Despite its blunt and organic shapes—Witkin was Henry Moore’s assistant and the influence is clear—the piece radiates a casually balletic quality.
The Abstract Impulse includes a number of works by artists who deserve wider recognition and fuller accounting. New York still awaits a museum retrospective of Ms. Adams’ vast and gritty cosmos, and one of our curators could do worse than “discover” James Kelly. In the meantime, this exhibition, in a limited and perhaps inadvertent way, suggests that the standard narratives of American abstract art would benefit from revision and elaboration. As seen at the Academy, it might not be a huge proposition, but it’s welcome all the same.
The Abstract Impulse: Fifty Years of Abstraction at the National Academy, 1956-2006 is at the National Academy, 1083 Fifth Avenue, until Jan. 6, 2008.