One of the pioneers of Conceptual art, Sol LeWitt gave primacy to the originating idea of a work of art rather than to its execution. LeWitt had been developing these ideas in three-dimensional objects he called “structures.” Based on the unit of an open, rather than solid, cube, the works peel away what he perceived as the decorative skin on traditional sculpture, revealing their underlying skeleton, or structure.
Though he created structures in a range of scales and shapes — the permutations growing more intricate over the decades — LeWitt maintained the use of white cubes with a ratio of 1:8.5; that is, the open space between the edges of a cube is 8.5 times the width of each edge. Five Towers (1986), a later, more complex structure, rises more than seven feet high, culminating in four towers on each corner of a square, with a fifth tower in the center.
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.
For more than sixty years, Alex Katz has created paintings distinguished by their bold colors, sharp outlines, and subjects taken from his daily life. By simplifying facial features and using flat, unmixed colors in works such as Edwin, Blue Series (1965), Katz emphasizes the form of the painting above its content. Here, he has cropped the left side of the body, asserting the figure as a subject of abstraction. The painting depicts Edwin Denby, a modernist poet and dance critic as well as a close friend of artists including Katz, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, and Franz Kline. Katz credits Denby for his appreciation of abstraction. Refusing to reveal his subjects’ personalities or interior life, Katz’s paintings focus instead on technique and visual invention.
Rosalyn Drexler’s work often explores the dark backstories of postwar media culture and gender roles through imagery taken from mass-produced printed materials. For Love and Violence (1965), she enlarged a poster from the 1963 Hollywood film, Toys in the Attic, collaged it onto canvas and then painted over it within a flattened visual field. In this image, the movie’s main character, played by Dean Martin, embraces the female lead, Yvette Mimieux, with his hands at her chin. By setting the image against a red background, above cinematic scenes of brutality, Drexler highlights the threat implied by the male character’s seemingly intimate gesture. In the artist’s words, these popular images were “hidden but present, like a disturbing memory.”
In 1947, while a student at Back Mountain College, Ruth Asawa (1926 – 2013) made a visit to Toluca, Mexico. There, she was introduced to a local method of crocheting wire to create baskets for carrying eggs. The discovery led Asawa to experiment with weaving wire into continuous, organic forms like the above Untitled sculpture (1955), which is described as a hanging six-lobed, complex interlocking continuous form-within-a-form, with two interior spheres. These works challenged conventional ideas of sculpture by embracing utilitarian craft methods and relying on the ceiling instead of the floor for support.
Photographed September 2020
In the early 1950s, Asawa later explained, the art establishment passed over her work because “it wasn’t traditional sculpture. They thought it was craft, or something else, but not art.” For Asawa, woven wire offered many possibilities of form and resulted in a work that was both transparent and airy, qualities that make the surrounding space part of the experience of the work and emphasize the connection between the interior and the exterior of the object.
In We Wither Time into a Coil of Fright, artist Jill Mulleady (b. 1989, Montevideo, Uruguay) portrays a surreal landscape populated by multiple figures. Though the individuals are clustered close to one another by the riverbank, they appear disconnected — even self absorbed.
The work suggests that contemporary life is hyperconnected yet ultimately isolating, a sense heightened by the scene’s lush natural surroundings. Without the protection and surveillance of the built environment, Mulleady asks, are her subjects more free, more vulnerable, or both?
This mural went up in March 2020 and is on indefinite view. You can see it from the beginning of the High Line on a building located at 95 Horatio Street.
Current, Mid-Pandemic Photo Taken July 18th, 2020.
Mirror of Life (1946), like many of Henry Koerner’s paintings, reveals the artist’s preoccupation with his experiences during World War II. Born in Vienna to Jewish parents, Koerner (1915 – 1991) escaped Austria following Hitler’s1938 invasion, fleeing first to Italy and subsequently to the United States. Soon after, he was drafted by the US military and stationed in Europe, where he was assigned to sketch the proceedings of the Nuremberg trials, the military tribunals in which leaders of Nazi Germany were tried for war crimes. Koerner returned to Vienna in 1946 only to learn that his parents, who’d stayed in Austria, had died in concentration camps during the war. Mirror of Life emerges from this context of conflict and loss. Disorienting juxtapositions — night and day, biblical events and present-day life, ordinary pastimes and bizarre phenomena — present a chaotic and disjunctive reflection of reality. The shirtless man leaning out of his window seems to be a stand-in for the artist. Home, for him, is not only the place where one resides but also a vantage point to witness all that has been lost.