Finding a Place: Anne Truitt from the 1970s at Matthew Marks Gallery
Anne Truitt: Threshold – Work from the 1970s at Mathew Marks Gallery
September 13 t0 October 26, 2013
523 West 24th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212 243 0200
This exhibition presents – in a finely tuned installation – sculptures, paintings, and drawings from the 1970s, many of which haven’t been exhibited since that decade. Early in her career, Washington-based Anne Truitt’s work was positioned in opposition to Donald Judd’s and Carl Andre’s Minimalism by Clement Greenberg, who had been introduced to her by Kenneth Noland. Washington was also home to Morris Louis, another painter exploring color in abstraction, and it was with the potential of color and painting rather than the principles of sculpture that Truitt was determined to find her expressive medium. The result, painted rectangular wooden objects, neither followed the cubistic vocabulary of David Smith, (a friend and supporter of Truitt’s), the found object/vernacular pop of Warhol, or the machined constructions of Judd. It was this independence from both Greenberg’s desire to see her work remain within the sculptural tradition of assemblage, and a rejection of the anti-handmade alternative that makes fitting Truitt into one category or the other impossible.
The pastoral sense of existing within a landscape (think Milton Avery) was very strong in the gallery’s three rooms, not only because of the orientation of the vertical column-like objects and horizontal floor pieces, but also because of the soft and shifting temperatures of Truitt’s color. As sightlines changed in passing through the exhibition, relationships were reconfigured between the individual works. Not only are the individual pieces an externalization of interior experience, their isolation in a shifting context – one that as a group they provide – allows an identification with our own situation in the world to be comprehensible only as flux and change.
The first work encountered on entering the gallery is the painting Februare, 1978. It recalls both Agnes Martin’s and Barnett Newman’s use of line to establish a compelling illusion of space through simple placement and color. Openly handmade, rather than hard edged, it already suggests a three dimensional equivalent that eschews neutral facture. It was on seeing Newman’s and Ad Reinhardt’s paintings in 1961 that Truitt turned to geometric form from figuration. Februare embraces in its chromatic range of cream, lime green and white, a pastoral rather than primary pallet. The green horizontal line is taken around the edge of the frontal surface stressing the objectness of the painting. It was a bold step from this acknowledgement of the edge of the support to the work that Truitt developed, exploring painted surfaces as part of free-standing colored objects that can be experienced actively, no longer images in themselves but now relating to their surroundings dynamically. The vertical columns make the floor, as it meets a wall behind them, an active changing horizon dependent on where the viewer is located.
The titles reaffirm an idea of movement or journey in the second room, three of the four works are called: Jaunt, 1977, Landfall, 1970 and Echo, 1973. Schubert’s song. Der Wanderer, composed in 1816, describes restlessness and estrangement within the context of a search for positive identification with nature, seems apposite in relation to Truitt’s externalization of emotion through colored isolated objects around which we move in order to behold.
In the final room Second Requiem 1977/1980, only reveals its color sequence of vertical slices of green and dark red bordered pink when the viewer circles the piece. It floats, as do all the column-like works, to effectively free the color from the floor, like a suspended painting, whereas if it were not raised, it would interact as one plane of color meeting another.
Within the exhibition, each group of works establishes a strong and particular sense of place. Take, for instance, the room containing the four white paintings from the Arundel series, all 1975, one on each wall surrounding the black/blue floor-based Remembered Sea, 1974. The white rectangles of the paintings with their subtle graphite lines are like snow or ice banks around a sliver of deep water, bleak but beautiful, like the sublime moments of Casper David Friedrich’s paintings created from multiple views that were assembled in a single work. Truitt talked of an artist’s work as being a distillation of a life, of the work out-living the artist. In this exhibition her experience of life seems generously well articulated and alive.