Al Held is an artist who defies neat categorizations. Part of the second wave of Abstract Expressionist artists in New York, Held’s different styles of painting throughout his career have been alternatively referred to as “Abstract Expressionist-inspired,” “hard edge abstraction,” “concrete abstraction,” “Color Field,” “constructivism,” and even “Piranesian Pop.” Perhaps these appellations are all appropriate designations at one time or another because this unique artist never had “just one good idea.” Or perhaps the range of his body of work more accurately reflects the passage of American Art from the iconic 1950’s action paintings through to the more crisp geometric abstraction following.
Created in 1965, 65-A17 dates to a period of marked success in Al Held's career as an artist. That same year, the critic Irving Sandler curated the acclaimed exhibition "Concrete Expresionism" at New York University, featuring Held's work alongside that of Knox Martin, Ronald Bladen, George Sugarman, and David Weinrib. The following year, Held was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and received the Logan Medal of the Arts. The mid-to-late 1960s saw Held return to a pure and exclusive palette of black and white; works such as 65-A17 approaches total abstraction, but stop just short. This piece's title references a combination of numbers and letters not readily discernible on its surface, but which serve as inspiration for the structure of Held's bold marks. Visual and graphically monumental, the arrangement of the letter formations is architecturally inspired, extending beyond the picture plane, and thus creating an awareness of space beyond the edge of the canvas. This work projects a solid iconic air. A not too subtle typographical ploy, it approaches the realm of Pop Art, but in final analysis is more constructivist in approach. Held explained his intent in an interview with Paul Cummings in 1975:
"There has been a constant theme there of wanting to advance that space…I would spend lots and lots of time on one edge…but the only way one could do that would be to invent a subject that wasn't simply an abstract theme."
Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York
General Electric Corporate Art Collection