Sunday, October 20, 2013

A personal take on Rockburne

Although I have seen many exhibits of her work over the past thirty years, my recent visit to  Dorothea Rockburne:  Drawing Which Makes Itself (on view at MOMA through January 20, 2014)  prompted me to explore why her work matters to me. After much looking and reading, I understood that Rockburne's appeal came from the open-ended possibilities that her work offered me, and that how she uses materials is central to my experience of her work. I've incorporated quotations from a number of interviews and articles, and a list of links to the complete articles can be found at the end of this post.

But first, a very brief glimpse of the MOMA exhibit. 
Drawing Which Makes Itself is organized around a series of works from the early to mid-1970s, executed in a variety of materials, such as carbon-paper, cut and folded paper, kraft paper coated with copal varnish as well as chipboard infused with crude oil. Also included are several pieces from the 1980s in paper, watercolor on vellum and canvas, as well as two fairly recent watercolors. The exhibit title is derived from the large wall and floor installations from the 1970s that are on view (created using carbon, carbon transfer, and pencil on paper).  For an installation view, click here. Many of the works on exhibit inhabit a space somewhere between drawing and sculpture.
Several pieces and series were of particular interest to me.

Locus is a series of six folded paper pieces. Although not initially apparent, these are relief etchings with aquatint on folded paper. There appear to be both incised and embossed lines and some sections of the paper are matte, while other areas have a slightly reflective surface. 

Above and below:      Dorothea Rockburne   Untitled from Locus, 1972       Etching and aquatint on folded paper   39 3/4 x 30 1/16" 

Several pieces from the Copal series are also on view. These drawings, from 1977-79, are executed on Kraft paper with copal oil, varnish, and blue pencil. As with the Locus series, some surface areas are matte, while others are more reflective. Additionally, as the folded layers overlap, there are varying degrees of translucence or opacity. N.B. I couldn't find an image from the Copal series; pictured below is work from similar series.

Dorothea Rockburne   Roman Series: Roman II, 1978   kraft paper, varnish and blue colored pencil on ragboard    44 x 39"

Perhaps my favorite work in this show is a wall installation titled Scalar. To create this piece, Rockburne soaked pieces of chipboard and paper in crude oil. The resulting panels have a variety of visual textures--some are rather grainy in appearance while others are soft and atmospheric. The rectangular panels are arranged with some overlap and nailed to the wall. An oil saturated sheet of paper emerges from between two panels on the left side, providing the single curved element of the piece, as well as serving to add physical depth to an otherwise flat piece.

Dorothea Rockburne   Scalar, 1971    chipboard, crude oil, paper and nails   80 x 114.5 x 3.5"   Collection of the Museum of Modern Art

My journey with Rockburne's work.

My initial exposure to Rockburne’s work came in the mid-1980s. At that time, although I was mesmerized by the work of Mondrian and Diebenkorn, I was far more comfortable viewing and making work that was to a great degree anchored in representation. So I was puzzled, yet tantalized, by Rockburne’s Angel series, with its juxtaposition of vibrantly hued fields against a tight geometry of folded forms. I was unable to articulate what drew me to her work, but I felt compelled to stay with it. That was the first lesson of her work-- take your time, stay with it, keep looking.  (One piece from the Angel series is included in the MOMA exhibit).
Dorothea Rockburne   Angel Study, Influence   1982  watercolor on vellum, 32.5" x 25.5"

I continued to follow her work over the decades, intrigued by some exhibits, but often finding myself distanced from and unable to find my way in. And there I left it. But now, decades later, the significant evolution of my own work has made it the right time to explore the connections I continue to feel with Rockburne's work.

ROCKBURNE and MATHEMATICS    Much has been made of Rockburne's extensive study of mathematics when she was a student at Black Mountain College. While she did explore set theory and the geometry of the golden section, she insists that her work should not be seen as being about mathematics. Rather, that mathematics is but one facet of thinking that contributes to her work. 
“My interest in Set Theory is not that Set Theory has to do with art, because it doesn’t. I am an artist, and it is one of my tools, the way graphite is. The usage of it comes from personal experience.........   In Peru, I visited the ruins at Sacsayhuaman outside of Cusco. The way the stones go together got to me. It’s not about huge stones. The experience of the object relates to particular intellectual inquiries: the decisions of mass and interstices, one never dominating the other. The “Set” of stones sits there quietly, an experience of information     From an Interview with Dorothea Rockburne by Jennifer Licht, Artforum, March 1972 
Although when I look at Rockburne's work I'm not thinking about the way it is informed by her interest in mathematics, her comments about set theory provide me with another way of considering my own explorations. Set theory is very much about identifying the attributes that establish inclusion or exclusion from the set. While of course, there are underlying rules in my own work, the parameters are often fairly porous in that I never know where the work will take me. When I accept into the painting a form, mark or color that falls outside the preferred attributes, it often becomes the mark around which the piece coalesces. So to the extent that we are aware of the attributes of a set, we become highly attuned to what is possible just beyond it. That was lesson 2, also central to my understanding of Rockburne.

Perhaps it is our expectation that narrowing one's choice of materials will necessarily narrow the range of outcomes.  But with Rockburne I find that not at all to be the case. It is as if by deliberately limiting the materials she uses for each series, she has freed up what she can achieve. The works within a series don't repeat an experience but instead offer subtle variations on it. And what we can glean from looking at just one piece is magnified considerably after spending time with several pieces in the series.

Clearly, her choice of materials impacts our experience, but it does not define it. (Her selection of crude oil and chip board for Scalar was deliberate, but due in large part to its low cost and ready availability.) Again, as with her familiarity with mathematics, her work isn't about a particular material (such as crude oil or carbon paper), but rather its use reveals other things she wants us to notice. By coating parts of a sheet of kraft paper with copal varnish, we experience the way light falls on different areas of the sheet, its translucence or opacity. Locus got me thinking about hard and soft folds and how we perceive what is barely visible. In the Angel series, by folding a sheet of brilliant but disembodied color into stark geometric forms, she makes us aware of planes, space, and light, and yes, the beauty of the colors.  Lesson 3--limit your options and then run wild, see where it can take you.

Rockburne's work is very much about expanding our perceptions, not limiting them. One needs to be patient, because what her work offers is not revealed quickly. However, Rockburne suggests that while she works for "a complexity of ideas. . . . that doesn't mean that the work is complicated."  Jennifer Licht, Artforum, March 1972
 “One of the keys to Rockburne’s work is that there is no explicit message encoded within her overlapping, interpenetrating, light filled planes. They are neither comments about the art object nor icons to the ineffable. They manage to accomplish something far more difficult in these grim, materialistic times; they evoke beauty, openness, the usefulness of doubt, and the possibility of creative freedom. Both deeply self critical and wildly assertive, their dynamic realm is riddled with uncertainties, and yet inhabited by imagination and desire.”    John Yau, from the introduction to a 1989-1990 exhibition at Andre Emmerich Gallery.
Rockburne's work is achieved after a great deal of thinking and planning, but is not in any way didactic. Instead of channeling a viewer towards a particular answer, with patience one arrives at a place of wonder. So I have returned to the first lesson I absorbed from her work many years ago--it isn't necessary to have understanding to find meaning, just keep looking.

Click here for the current Rockburne exhibit at MOMA.
Click here to read the Jennifer Licht interview with Rockburne, Artforum, March 1972 

Click here to read John Yau, "Light and Dark", introduction to the exhibition catalog for DOROTHEA ROCKBURNE New Work: Cut-Ins, Andre Emmerich Gallery, 1989-1990.  

Click here for information about a Rockburne exhibit now up at Jill Newhouse Gallery, New York. The exhibit includes additional works from the 1973 series, Drawing Which Makes Itself.

Rockburne maintains a website on with a comprehensive selection of her work from the 1960's to the present. Click here to view the website.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Summer round-up

As NYC galleries close their doors for the late-summer break, here's a glimpse of what I saw at several group exhibits......
at Parallel Art Space

Curated by Mel Prest, Doppler features work by 22 artists who explore the interplay of two and three dimensional space, often hovering in a sensory space between the two.  The installation beautifully highlights dialogues between clusters of adjacent works. With the exception of a wall painting by Gilbert Hsiao and a large canvas by Karen Schifano, all of the pieces on exhibit are intimate in size. 

The work on view spans a wide variety of approaches to art-making: ranging from the pared down elegance of Brent Hallard, Kevin Finklea and Richard Bottwin, to the complex surfaces of Mel Prest, Stephen Maine and Steven Baris, and the subtle geometries of Debra Ramsay and Nancy White.

For a comprehensive walk through of the exhibit, click here to see photographs taken by Richard Bottwin, one of the artists whose work is in the exhibit.  

There is still one more weekend to see this wonderful exhibit, which closes on Sunday, August 18.

Installation view, left wall GILBERT HSIAO.   photo from Parallel Art Space FB page

From top left, counter-clockwise:  ALBERT ROSKAM, RICHARD BOTTWIN, RUTH VAN VEENEN, photo courtesy of Richard Bottwin

                From left to right:  GRACE KHOUW, STEPHEN MAINE, MEL PREST, EDGAR DIEHL                   photo courtesy of Richard Bottwin
 Parallel Art Space, 17-17 Troutman Street, Ridgewood NY 

at Garvey|Simon Art Access in Chelsea

Explorations of the straight line by five artists working with different intentions and in a variety of materials.

SUSAN SCHWALB    Toccata #60, 2013     Mixed metalpoint on paper   9 x 9 inches
You can see more work by Schwalb by clicking here.

KATE CARR    Block E, 2012    Baltic birch plywood and felt   20 x 5 x 3 inches

See more work by CARR by clicking here

   DAN WALSH   Untitled (OGV-Violet, OGV-Green & OGV-Orange), 2007      Set of three woodcuts,  each 23 x 49 inches
You can see more prints by Walsh by clicking here.

This group exhibit (with work by Kate Carr, Susie Rosmarin, Susan Schwalb, James Siena and Dan Walsh) remains up through August 23.  Garvey|Simon Art Access, 547 West 27th Street, New York.  Photos from the gallery website.

at McKenzie Fine Art

The focus of this group exhibit was work in which webs and nets play a role in the construction of space. Reticulate features work by 17 artists which vary in size from the intimate ink on paper drawings of Lori Ellison and small panels by Laura Sharp Wilson to large canvases by Jason Karolak and Jason Rohlf.

IVO RINGE    Right on Top of the Skin, 2011    Acrylic on linen     28 x 24 inches

 To see more work by Ivo Ringe, click here.

LORI ELLISON    Untitled, 2012    Ink on paper    11 5/8 x 8 1/4
 For more work by Lori Ellison, click here.

CATHRYN ARCOMANO   Mirea Series #33, 1981    Oil on canvasette   10 3/4 x 11 3/4 inches

MARK SHEINKMAN    Mercer, 2013    Oil, alkyd and graphite on paper     16 x 13 inches
For more by Mark Sheinkman, click here.

McKenzie Fine Art, 55 Orchard Street, NYC. The exhibit includes the work of 17 artists and is up through August 17.  Photos from the gallery website.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Reinventing Abstraction / What are they painting now?

Reinventing Abstraction  is currently on view at Cheim & Read, New York, and up through August 30, 2013.  The exhibition, curated by Raphael Rubinstein, includes paintings of Louise Fishman, Bill Jensen, Jonathan Lasker, Pat Steir, Jack Whitten, Elizabeth Murray, Carroll Dunham, Stanley Whitney, Terry Winters, Joan Snyder, David Reed, Mary Heilmann, Thomas Nozkowski, Gary Stephan, and Stephen Mueller.

As stated in the gallery press release, “This exhibition focuses on New York abstraction in the 1980s as practiced by a generation of painters born between 1939 and 1949. . . . . . . The 1939-1949 bracket encompasses a generation marked by the 1960s, by the social and political upheavals of the period. Rejecting formalism, these artists found diverse means of introducing new content into their work; their abstraction was frequently an impure abstraction. “   

By the 1980s, each of these artists had established a distinctive style. As I am always curious about the threads that weave through an artist's work over time, I've selected the work of 8 artists and paired a painting from this exhibit with a more contemporary work. 

Louise Fishman

Navigation  1981    oil on linen    25 x 22 inches     Courtesy of Cheim & Read    

Assunta  2012    oil on linen   70 x 60 inches   Courtesy of Cheim & Read  

Mary Heilmann

Rio Nido  1987     acrylic and oil on canvas    39 x 58 inches    Courtesy of Cheim & Read

Sea within a Sea  2011     oil on wood panel   24 x 30 inches   Courtesy of Hauser & Wirth

Jonathan Lasker

Double Play 1987  oil on linen   76 x 100 inches   Courtesy of Cheim & Read
Scenic Remembrance 2007   oil on linen  90 x 120 inches  Courtesy of Cheim & Read

Thomas Nozkowski

Untitled (6-30) 1988   oil on canvas board   16 x 20 inches    Courtesy of Cheim & Read 

 Untitled (9-18) 2012   oil on linen on panel    22 x 28 inches   Courtesy of Pace Gallery

                                            Pat Steir

Last Wave Painting: Wave Becoming a Waterfall 1987-88  oil on canvas  84 x 128 inches   Courtesy of Cheim & Read

Sixty by Fifty Number One  2011   oil on canvas    60 x 48 inches   Courtesy of Cheim & Read

Jack Whitten

Red, Black and Green 1979-80    acrylic and string on canvas    64 x 64 inches   Courtesy of Cheim & Read
Apps for Obama  2011    acrylic on hollow core door    84 x 91 inches   Courtesy Alexander Gray Associates

                                    Stanley Whitney

Sixteen Songs  1984   oil on linen    66 x 108 inches     Courtesy of Cheim & Read

Nigerian Smile  2012   oil on linen   72 x 72 inches   Courtesy of Team Gallery

                                      Terry Winters

Point  1985   oil on linen    102 x 69 inches    Courtesy of Cheim & Read

Tessellation Figures (4)  2011   oil on linen   80 x 76 inches    Courtesy of Mathew Marks Gallery

For more information on the exhibit Reinventing Abstraction, take a look at this article by Thomas Micchelli on Hyperallergic.   You can also view a full walk through of the exhibit on opening night by James Kalm by clicking here.

Monday, April 29, 2013

BLINKY PALERMO at David Zwirner

BLINKY PALERMO    II Who knows the beginning and who knows the end? 1976 
  Acrylic on 2 sheets of drawing paper
Each drawing 11 7/5 x 8 ¼

Aaah. Blinky Palermo. What better to look at on a beautiful spring day (or any day, for that matter).  Direct, stripped down, but filled with soul.  An exquisite show of acrylic on paper drawings by Palermo is on exhibit at David Zwirner, in Chelsea, April 25 through June 29, 2013. The occasion for this treat is the 70th anniversary of Palermo's birth. 

Palermo lived in New York from 1973 to 1977 and most of the work in this exhibition dates from 1976-77.  All the drawings are modest in scale and  executed in acrylic on drawing paper mounted on cardboard. Although barely visible in the more distant views of the suites, all were done on sheets from a spiral bound drawing notebook. I mention this because the perforated edge adds to the honesty of this body of work--while Palermo addresses important concerns in the vocabulary of abstraction, he does so without conceit.   (The images in this post came from the gallery website. Unfortunately, I was not able to access close up views of individual drawings in the suites with multiple drawings.)

BLINKY PALERMO  1 – 7  Untitled, 1976    Acrylic on drawing paper mounted on cardboard
Each drawing: 12 5/8 x 9 3/8, mounted on cardboard and framed separately.
Staatliche Graphische Sammlung Munich    

BLINKY PALERMO   Das gelbe Fenster, 1976    Acrylic and graphite on 2 sheets of drawing paper mounted on cardboard
Each sheet:   11 5/8 x 8 1/4"

Palermo's drawings are difficult to categorize--they are minimalist in composition and palette, but not formulaic in any way. In some drawings the hand of the artist is revealed through expressive brushwork. Yet in others, the brushwork is barely visible and it is only in the subtle imperfections of the geometry that we feel his presence.    

Most of the drawings were executed either in pairs or in series of 4 to 12 drawings, and there is a sense of experimentation across each series. Several of the suites of drawings are titled 'Tageszeiten', indicating these drawings may have been a daily activity for Palermo. He  explores figure/ground relationships, perceptions of depth, and the saturation of color all quite deliberately, but without pretension.  


BLINKY PALERMO      Nevada, 1976   Acrylic on 2 sheets of drawing paper mounted on cardboard
Each sheet:  12 5/8 x 9 3/8"  in a single frame  
Kunstmuseum Bonn

Works in black, red and white are prominent in the exhibit, but there are drawings in other palettes as well.  1-12, 12 Monate, 1976 is a suite of drawings in which the colors include yellows, red, green and blue. (Once again, I was not able to access a good quality file of the installation.)  

BLINKY PALERMO    1 – 4  Tageszeiten, 1976     Acrylic on drawing paper mounted on cardboard in 4 parts.     Each drawing: 12 ½ x 9 3/8" mounted on cardboard in a separate frame

BLINKY PALERMO    1 – 7 Untitled (for Babette), 1976     Acrylic on drawing paper mounted on cardboard in 7 parts. Each drawing 11 5/8 x 8 ½”, mounted on cardboard in a separate frame. Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, NY

 Das Rastel (below) is one of several pieces that is primarily gestural. Here, Palermo uses black both as gesture and to depict a void. 
BLINKY PALERMO   Das Ratsel,  1976   Acrylic on 3 sheets of drawing paper mounted on cardboard.  
 Each sheet 11 5/8 x 8 1/4"

The appeal of these drawings is in the unassuming manner in which Palermo works through the explorations.  The work is often quiet, slow, and enormously satisfying.  There is much more to see in this exhibit, and while you are there, stop in to see early works by Richard Serra on the first floor.