Initial recognition of Bertoia's drawings came early, when the Guggenheim Museum's director bought 100 of them in 1943 and exhibited some. Awareness of the drawings then - like the renewed awareness of them now - seems quite discerning, a realization that Bertoia was an artist who remained true to the modernist painter Wassily Kandinsky's fundamental principles of abstraction.
Based on that firm foundation, Bertoia discovered new spiritual and expressive dimensions within abstraction that offered him fresh ways of expressing "internal necessity."
And Kuspit contends, because Bertoia's drawings never purged their allusions to nature as completely as Kandinsky's did when he strove for pure abstraction, they have kept their vitality and expressiveness. Kandinsky's lost ground, becoming emotionally shallow and geometrically hollow; with abstraction, 100 percent purity equals decadence, Kuspit writes.
Bertoia's intense and unbreakable link with nature is most responsible for the living quality in his best drawings. They were European-influenced rather than "native," yet the artist absorbed modern movements into a style he could live with. He sought to express nature's own pulsating vitality, reinforcing its patterns of growth and of sunlight and shadows, drawn continuously to the natural world for inspiration.
Kuspit declares that "abstract impressions" of nature are Bertoia's "most emotionally engaging and aesthetically intriguing works." Yet he doesn't shun emotional resonance or artistic subtlety when he encounters those qualities in drawings or monoprints that strive for more purity.
I suppose what he's against is any one-dimensional process of reading the pictorial writing we sense in abstract drawings - better this should give way to the 3-D method of recognizing images. After all, some of these drawings are studies for Bertoia's renowned metal sculptures.
At this exhibition, give yourself time to catch the clear note, the flash that suddenly reveals a merging of two opposites, producing a lyrical effect. Bertoia always did have a very positive outlook.
This handsome show also includes three of Bertoia's metal sculptures, on loan from Mira and Kevin Nakashima and the Nakashima Foundation for Peace, New Hope.
Rosemont College's Lawrence Gallery, Montgomery Avenue, Rosemont. Through Sept. 20. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (closed Labor Day). Public reception Thursday, 4-6:30 p.m., with 4:30 gallery talk. Free. 610-526-2967.
A woman's work
Alison Altergott might have lived in the Victorian era of the roll-up sewing kit known as a housewife
. Made from a length of leftover calico or silk, they contained pockets in which women claiming any gentility at all would, when finished with a sewing task, stash their scissors, thread, pins, and needles.
In her show "Full Circle/Half Moon" at 22 Gallery, the artist clearly "gets" it about the traditional sewing chores then considered women's work. Featured are 30 of her cloth panels for a month of days, using stitchery, applique, and hand-printing.
A quiet voice, unpretentious in style, Altergott accepts the importance of the everyday and the ordinary. Now she needs to forcefully distill and condense her style, while retaining its original immediacy and gutsiness.
22 Gallery, 236 S. 22d St. Through Sunday. Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. Free. 215-772-1911.