Katharina Fritsch makes meticulous reproductions of everyday objects, rendering them unfamiliar through extreme shifts in scale and either alluring or repellent color choices. Indeed, saturated and non reflective collators of color lend her sculptures a stones sense of otherworldliness.
“I always call the starting point [for a sculpture] a vision,” she has said. “I’ll be in a tram or driving a car and suddenly I get a picture in my mind. Something completely normal turns into a miracle — something I’ve never seen before. Simple things you see every day turn into something strange, something alien.”
Woman With Dog (2004) is clearly sealed up — enormously so — from from a small figurine made of seashells, as one might find in a beachside souvenir shop.
Chicago-based surrealist Gertrude Abercrombie (1909 – 1977) was acclaimed for her enigmatic paintings of stark interiors and illusory landscapes. On first glance, Self Portrait As My Sister (1941) appears to be relatively straight-forward representation, lacking the idiosyncratic imagery of her complex, dreamlike works. But Abercrombie was an only child, and the title’s allusion to a sister heightens the paradox of the painting. She frequently used self-portraiture as a means of trying on new guises and personas, later observing, “It’s always myself that I paint, but not actually, because I don’t look that good or cute.” Indeed, in her records she referred to this work as “Portrait of Artist as Ideal.” Her reference to a fictitious and prettier sister hints at desire to be a different person, a longing she could satisfy through her painting.
Having been employed as a department store janitor during his freshman year of college, Charles Ray (b. 1953) understands the unease that a mannequin — an inanimate object that one might readily mistake for a live human — can inspire. Ray’s work is also charged with purely sculptural tensions that exist between surface and interior, armature and appendage and / or size and scale. With Boy (1992), Ray created a particularly disquieting figure.
Museum Guard With Sense of Humor Poses With Boy
The sculpture stands just shy of six feet tall, the artist’s exact height, yet maintains the softness of youth in its rounded cheeks and limbs. The boy is clad in outdated garments, hovering ‘between baby and Hitler youth,” in the words of one critic. Additionally, the boy’s pose and gesture suggest a confrontational manner at odds with his neutral expression.
In Orange Mood (1966), Helen Frankenthaler (1928 – 2011) thinned acrylic paint to the consistency of watercolor in order to create larger, curving expanses of color through which the weave of the canvas remains visible. Like Jackson Pollack, she placed her canvas directly on the floor and poured paint from above, largely without the aid of a brush. Frankenthaler used color as her painterly language, but she never entirely abandoned representation. Although the references can be subtle, her paintings consistently evoke nature. The undulating forms in Orange Mood relate to a simplified landscape, with zones of color recalling different emotional states. Hue and shape convey place and feeling. “I think of my pictures as explosive landscapes, worlds and distances, held on a flat surface,” Frankenthaler once stated.
Photographed as Part of The Exhibit Spilling Over: Painting Color in the 1960s, On View Through August 2019 at the Whitney Museum 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.
Luigi Lucioni and Paul Cadmus probably met as students, and they doubtless shared acquaintances within New York’s circles of gay artists and writers. Lucioni’s likeness of Cadmus (1928) celebrated the shared passion of two young moderns for the ideal forms of Italian Renaissance art, particularly the paintings of Piero della Francesca. Within a modern close-up format, the artist captured a gaze that is at once tentative and mesmerizing.
The starting point for this lively patterned abstraction was an earlier canvas by Stuart Davis (1892 – 1964) entitled House and Street (1931). Treating each subsequent version as a riff on a jazz theme, Davis moved further and further away from his original composition to establish independent, rhythmic color patterns that retained only a few direct visual cues to the initial design. The Mellow Pad (1945 – 51) refers to the phrase “the mellow pad” — jazz lingo for the “cool” place to be. The pulsating colors and meandering forms seen here effectively mimic the dynamic rhythms of jazz. Davis developed his own style of Synthetic Cubism in which he dissolved figure and ground and referenced popular culture, adding a distinctly American sensibility to his abstractions