On a recent visit, all three members of our party - two writers and one gallery director, people familiar with museum etiquette - were at one point or another admonished by a zealous member of the staff, on guard to see to it that no human hand comes within 12 inches of a painting.
That's a hard rule to follow, because one of the most fascinating things about the painter is the evolution of his surfaces from wild, free brush strokes at the beginning of his career to nearly machine-like perfection at the end, with intermediate works in which he took
|#24, Constable painted aluminum.
Midway through the show's first large room, which mostly finds Biederman flirting with Cézanne and Cubism, are a pair of abstract works that hint at the direction his work will eventually take. One, from 1934, is a collection of colored forms rendered in raw, unhidden brush strokes; the next, made just a year later, translates similar forms into realistically shaded objects appearing to float in space. In the latter canvas, the painter downplays the painted surface in service of illusion, and his involvement with his imaginary three-dimensional world foreshadows a comment a French critic would eventually make about his work, that it "is sculpture, not painting."
The show's final room shows that the remark was prophetic. Here, brightly colored rectangles jut
| CHARLES BIEDERMAN: ABSTRACT MODERNIST
10am-5pm Tuesday-Saturday, noon-5pm Sunday
Through June 22
The McNay Art Museum
6000 N. New Braunfels
`Postscript: Lest we seem too snide about overzealous security guards, it should be noted that the perfect aluminum surfaces of Biederman's late work are particularly easy to damage. Even clean hands would probably leave lasting marks, so don't fondle the sculpture.` •