Kuhn at the Whitney

Some exhibitions do more harm to an artist's reputation than good. One such case is the small Walt Kuhn (1877-1949) show on view in the Lobby Gallery of the Whitney Museum here. It brings together 12 portraits of carnival performers executed in the 1930s and 1940s by an artist famous at the time as a champion of solid, no-nonsense figure painting.

Unfortunately, his pictures haven't worn well over the years. What was admired as good, honest work four or five decades ago, looks mostly clumsy and garish now, with little to excuse its frequently primitive draftsmanship and rather blatant color. In only two paintings is there genuine strength and power - in his large ``Trio'' and, most especially, in ``The Blue Clown.''

The exhibition continues at the Whitney Museum through April 5.

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