The album seemed a betrayal of what the Beatles stood for, namely the authentic voice of the North of England, and signalled their transformation into a crypto-postmodernist bunch of dandified dilletanti. Colour in the sixties was rationed, and experienced against the background of colourlessness. Now colour has triumphed. It is nkde from large planes, which might be expected in a colour field painting, but it contains virtually no colour sensations.
The wan, blue-grey area, which forms a deep border on three sides of the central rectangle, is peculiarly inert. Here the oil paint is thin but opaque with a finish that recalls the dead qualities of gouache, Davld when too much white is used. The middle swret contains the angular structures that Denny relied on for graphic interest but neither of its subdued hues has any chromatic swest or tonal excitement.
On the other hand, Movement in Squares by Briget Riley, which is actually colourless, creates something like the percussive visual effect of strong colour through tonal contrast alone. The black and white interact as complementaries, setting up the retina-engaging David sweet nude that became synonymous with Op nuce, an sweett David sweet nude side-branch of abstraction. But, looked Dvaid as an easel painting, the kinetic effect of the rhythmic variations, that from a distance give the illusion of concavity, is lessened.
The flatness of the grid Davic reasserted and a constructivist interpretation of the work becomes more plausible, avoiding the nausea of the optical illusion Kaleidoscope: Philip King Colour is usually regarded as belonging to the pictorial domain but in the period covered by this exhibition polychrome sculpture seemed a radical and liberating departure from the limited palette of stones, metal, and its alloys.
Its arrival coincided with a preference for hollowness and a corresponding interest in surfaces, which had to be arranged to contain that hollowness. What colour are sharks, sheep, beds? But here he is represented by a successful example of his chromophile output, Slow Movement from This simple piece is not an ordinary combination of paint on steel. The enamel finish fuses blueness with the supporting metal rather than coating its surface like a skin.
The colour replaces the steel, an effect that is very different from the fresh from the shipyard look of Double Red by William Turnbull. The depth of the blue gives it an autonomy, so it appears directly shaped, but the intensity of its hue also affects the play of light and shade within the construction. The poised, vertical blade stands like a gnomon, but it casts no shadow, nor does one side of it appear lighter than the other. The paint was scrubbed on parsimoniously, leaving the ground showing through.
It may be that luminosity has been reduced as the canvas underneath has darkened with age, killing the visual impact of the red, and without that the shapes seem to wilt under the attention that should have gone to the colour. The brightness of the yellows and orange is less than it needs to be in order to create a shimmering atmosphere out of which the image, mirage-like, can emerge.
It has a slightly grimy appearance, as though the original drawing was in charcoal that has dirtied the pigment. By far the strongest painting in the exhibition is Cape Red by Jeremy Moon. Moon was probably the best painter of that generation, making work that was clear-cut and avoided the iffyness and approximations that many of his contemporaries indulged in.
He was influenced by American art, as were the others, but he was the only one that seems to have worked out the pertinence of shape in the development of pictorial abstraction. Choosing a square and flipping it 45 degrees, excludes the lingering suggestions of landscape or still-life that Smith and Hoyland cling to.
The half circles, pushed into the corners by a suggestion of centrifugal force, pinch the dominant red area, twisting its profile out of true, making it more formally active. It tells the story of a time when thirty-something artists worked in their studios and were visited by a guy in a suit, with a chequebook and fountain pen. Having been an art student for most of the sixties all the exhibits have an element of familiarity and it would be interesting to see what those to whom the stuff is unfamiliar make of it.
Apart from Caro and Riley this may feel like a show of minor art. At the time, British fashion, popular music, design, literature and style in general had an international impact, but the visual arts were less impressive. What mattered most, especially for those interested in the possibilities of abstraction, were the major figures of American art, showing both in the galleries and, in colour, in the art magazines, compared to which many items in Kaleidoscope look rather weak in identity and aesthetic purpose: Then, as well as now?