Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Anne Truitt @ Matthew Marks

One of the things I love about art is the surprise. The surprise in both the creation and in finding what I like about other people's art. Sometimes, as in the case of Anne Truitt's recent show, Threshold: Works from the 1970s at Matthew Marks Gallery (September 13 to October 26), the surprise is in finding that I love something I wouldn't expect to even like if didn't stand in front of it and experience it for myself.

Truitt's Arundel Series and particularly the one below (Arundel XXVII or XXX, I'm not sure) could very well be the most minimalist painting I've ever seen and it is also one of the most powerful. I love it, but if you described it to me, I wouldn't get it, I would expect to be totally unimpressed, and I would think you lost your senses if you told me you liked it. The contrast between the expectation and the experience is a huge surprise and, perhaps, one of the reasons I love it so much. From the image below it is difficult to see anything, it consists of a small vertical white line (maybe it is more like a smudge) painted on an unprimed canvas with a straight graphite line drawn on top of it.
 Arundel XXVII or XXX
acrylic and graphite on canvas
Below is a closeup for a better view of the paint and graphite. There isn't much to it in terms of material or labor, but the emotional impact for me is totally out of proportion with the physical material. That fact makes me stop and think about why it is so powerful, which also adds to my love for it. I find the restraint it takes to do so little remarkable. It is completely counter-intuitive, but this work shows that a painter can sometimes say more without paint than with. Also, by painting so little, she forces the viewer to look closely, and think. It leaves space for thought, and interpretation, and questions. There is just enough on the canvas to attach to, to see, yet an enormous space to think about and wonder. It shows a tremendous amount of respect for, and trust in, the viewer. And finally, the contrast between the free-form vertical white smudge and the precise vertical graphite line says something emotionally that is beyond words.
 Arundel XXVII (or XXX) (closeup)
There were also a series of fully acrylic paintings in the show that I also loved, my favorite of which was Februare, which consists of a few horizontal lines, two white and one greenish, all perfectly horizontal but painted roughly, with imprecise edges. It is austere, full of emptiness (an oxymoron?) and subtlety while also providing a fixed point that draws the viewers attention. It seem well titled, an emotional translation of February to the visual.
acrylic on canvas
In this closeup you can see the roughness of the horizontal lines and the subtlety of the white acrylic on a white canvas.
 Februare (closeup)
I also love Echo and how the boarder color is so close to the interior one that the viewer is forced to look closely to see what the form is.
acrylic on canvas
In this closeup it is easier to see the two colors. I especially like how the inside color moves subtly out at the center. I find it beautiful, simple, and thoughtful.
 Echo (closeup)
Though the above paintings aren't made with wood and seem out of place in a wood art blog, I'm covering the show because of her painted wood sculptures. I think the series raises the question of where to draw the line between sculpture and painting. For me, these are really three-dimensional paintings, the structure is merely a very complicated canvas, but no more complicated than canvases I've seen made by Frank Stella or Sean Scully, and no less painterly either.

Two of her wood pieces were horizontal, Grant and Remembered Sea.
acrylic on wood
 Remembered Sea
acrylic on wood
The rest were vertical. All, regardless of orientation, are so austere, rigid, and perfect. I find it amazing that after forty years the pieces seem to be as perfect as the day they were made, no gaps or visible seams anywhere. Everything is completely smooth. I don't know what her method of construction was but she knew what she was doing, it is no small feat to make these pieces out of wood and have them remain perfect for so many years. Additionally, her painted surfaces and lines are completely smooth and clean.  
acrylic on wood
Some of these pieces play with contrasts, as with Jaunt, where the top and bottom are small but dramatically different than the middle;
 Jaunt (closeup)
and Second Requiem,
 Second Requiem
acrylic on wood
where one side is dramatically different than the other three.

Second Requiem (second view)
While others are very subtle, forcing the viewer to look closely to discover the designs, as with Landfall,
acrylic on wood
which I love for the two subtle changes at the bottom, as well as the very slight vertical band;
Landfall (closeup)
and Morning Child, where the bottom is, similarly, a slightly different blue.
 Morning Child
acrylic on wood
Here changes are so slight sometimes, they make me suspect that she changes colors from one side to the next, leaving the viewer in complete mystery because of the impossibility of determining whether there is a change due to the differences in lighting.

I found the most important aspect of the show was the emotional impact it had on me. I feel that the show as a whole, and each of the pieces as well, made me feel very sad and lonely, and I really appreciate that -- not that I enjoy the feeling but I love art that makes me feel anything strongly. The affect made me wonder what impact it had on other people so I asked a couple of gallery assistants how the show made them feel. One said "happy," he thought the work was joyful (which I don't really get), the other said "calm" (which I do get). Regardless of what her intent or inspiration was, the show is powerful and if the viewer takes the time to look, think, and feel, it should add to their understanding of what great art is.