Marcia Hafif (1929 – 2018) made this painting in Italy, where she lived for nearly eight years in the 1960s between college and graduate school. Her works from this period feature certain abstract forms that elude to landscapes, music or the body. For example, she characterized the hill-like curve — which here appears twice and inverted — as “a compact shape, archetypal, referring to the cave, the house, the home, safety, endurance, intensity.” Hafif embraced an open-ended approach to abstraction that was grounded in observing the world, and the nature of painting itself.
Memorial Day weekend is literally a washout here in Manhattan, but I managed to save the day on Saturday by taking a trip to the Whitney Museum to see the Julie Mehretu exhibit, which is just mind blowing! Mehretu is an Ethiopian-born, New York-based abstract painter whose monumental canvases create layered worlds and vortexes of energy that must absolutely be experienced in person to really lose yourself in their surreal presence. Two Thumbs way up on this one. Be sure to follow me on Instagram by clicking on the image above so that you don’t miss out on any of my exciting weekend art adventures!
Robert Reed (1938 – 2014) considered Plum Nellie, Sea Stone (1972) as a landscape. In it, a clearly defined rectangle of exposed canvas draws the viewer’s eye to the middle of the painting. Bold purple strokes of paint jostle at the rectangle’s sides. The work is part of Reed’sPlum Nellie series, which was exhibited in his solo show at the Whitney in 1973. In addition to referencing its color palette, the title recalls the southern expression “plum nelly.” Reed remembered the phrase to near “damn near,” suggesting that his relationship to abstraction is as much about the process of getting there as it is about arriving at a destination.
Since the Chelsea galleries reopened a few months ago, there has not been much on exhibit that has compelled me to leave my house in order to see the art in person. I felt differently, however, when I received an email announcing an exhibit of new paintings from Wilmington, DE-based painter Jennifer Small. As soon as I saw her bold and colorful canvases featuring abstract shapes and patterns, they reminded me of the shaped, sculptural paintings by Beverly Fishman as well as the furniture designs of Shiro Kuramata. It delighted me to imagine what a line of art furniture from the mind of this artist might look like. I wanted to see these paintings in person right away. Sadly, I was informed that the show was viewable online only, but gallerist Robert Berry was kind enough ask Jennifer for a statement about her work exclusively for this post. Sweet.
Detail of Work from Above Photo
“Beauty in Banality is about seeing everyday routine as an opportunity to absorb visual curiosities in situations or places that are often overlooked,” Jennifer explains. “I use abstraction to elevate these glimpses of ordinary environments into bold, engaging compositions that can live in a white cube gallery space but are still approachable and relatable because they are grounded in observations of common things.” It’s nice to know that I am not alone in having taken inspiration from my post-lockdown neighborhood walks.
“The majority of the paintings in Beauty in Banality were made since the Covid-19 lockdown this past year,” she continues. “I was inspired by walking my dog around the block, witnessing caution tape around playgrounds and abandoned soccer fields. My paintings become a visual diary of my movements in a specific time and place.”
Suggestive of the works of Thomas Nozkowski, Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park Series, and Wendy White, Small’s work often features a major focal point, as well as secondary items, creating visual interest with neutral areas juxtaposed with detailed patterning. Find out more about Jennifer Small, and see all of the fourteen works featured in the Beauty of Banality series, through January 10th 2021, by visiting the Robert Berry Gallery.
An early practitioner of Op Art, a movement that emerged in the mid-1960s and prioritized optical illusionism, Edna Andrade (1917 – 2008) used geometry and color to create abstract interpretations of organic ratios, biological systems, and natural rhythms. Summer Game (1972) features a vibrant palette and an irregular grid that appears to expand and contract, project, and recede, creating a sense of playful, kinetic energy.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
Ad Reinhardt (1913 – 1967) studied both Eastern and Western art history at the undergraduate and graduate levels. He deepened his understanding of Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies by attending the lectures of Zen teacher Daisetz Suzuki at Columbia University. Number 22 (1949) shows Reinhardt fusing Eastern and Western traditions by using calligraphic brushwork inspired by Chinese and Japanese calligraphy in a gridded composition influenced by those of de Stijl cofounder Piet Mondrian.
Number 22, Detail
In classical East Asian painting, the fragility of paper wet with ink limits the artist’s ability to rework the composition. The sturdier canvas support and slower-drying oil paints used throughout much of the history of Western painting allows artists to highlight various revision and layering techniques. Although he worked in oil on canvas, Reinhardt chose to restrain himself and not rework his painting’s surface, in keeping with Asian calligraphic traditions. The result is a far more controlled manner of gestural painting than those of the Abstract Expressionists.
This Untitled Abstract Painting (circa 1963 or 64) is one of the last paintings made by Eva Hesse before she switched to sculpture. Its deconstructed symbols, figures, and shapes evoke natural forms and bodies without ever being directly identifiable. Delicate brushwork, soft colors and a light, witty touch lend this work a feminine quality that she intended as a rebuke to the masculinity of Minimalist Art. Hess was reading Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex at this time, and the text led her to question her own fragmented status as artist, woman and wife. Her work, though not overtly political, explores these issues in poetic, expressive abstractions.