Matthew Marks Gallery’s show of Anne Truitt’s work closed June 26. Viewing it opened a time portal back to the late ’60s, when Clem Greenberg’s grip had loosened in New York but still held provincial Washington DC in a vise-like clutch. Truitt’s work rather weakly weds the uninflected solid hues of the Washington Color School with then-hipper and tougher “specific objects” of Donald Judd & Co. Although she began making these columns before Judd’s boxy vision had fully matured and arguably influenced his circle, she continued working in this style to her death, and her surfaces and exquisite color-choices quickly became anachronistic within a milieu that moved on to metal, plexiglas, and other un-artlike media. One must move around the columns to see stripes and bands of differing colors, in a kind of theatrical, phenomenological, unfolding blah blah. Marks’ Truitt mini-retrospective treated each column with the respect we would give the 2001 monolith should it appear on Earth. To stand in the gallery’s awesome, vast, pristine, Manhattan-real estate-wasting whiteness with only Truitt’s dolmens in our field of view was to experience the best secular temple money can buy. Gentle light wafted down from skylights and one’s eyes rose heavenward from the columns to study a flawless painted ceiling. One imagined that the moment a single spot of mildew appeared an underpaid factotum would be up a ladder for touchup. The slight new paint smell lingered in one’s nostrils like incense. Only two elements marred this slice of Modernist Nirvana: the guy watching the sculptures and pretending to read his iPhone and a single Truitt work in a back gallery that looked like it was made of siding or some other ordinary building material. Greenberg would have spanked Truitt for this demotic reference and wouldn’t know what to make of the guy with the phone.
[Note from the guest blogger: Paddy is on vacation for a few days so I will be taking the wheel. Initially we’ll talk about three 22nd Street shows that all closed within a few days of each other, with a bit of compare-and-contrast: the Anne Truitt above, then Heather Rowe and Jorge Pardo. I’m not familiar with the comment system here so it may take a few days before I start replying to comments (if any) – please bear with me and let’s stick to talking about art and not whether certain bloggers are “player haters.” Till the next post – Tom]
Update: The first comment has come in, from Paddy Johnson on twitter: “Tom Moody on Anne Truitt at Matthew Marks. He doesn’t sound like he likes it, but it’s hard to say.” OK, if we must: thumbs down. The show spared no trouble to dress up mediocre work of minor historical relevance.
Update 2: We had a bug infest the comment thread below so I am moving comments from the end into the main body of the post. The discussion on Anne Truitt begins as follows:
I thought it was pretty clear you didn't like it, but you seem awfully short on criticism of the actual work. Did Truitt actually discuss her work in terms of “a kind of theatrical, phenomenological, unfolding blah blah?” It seems pretty unfair if you're going to dismiss her work based on what was written about her by a critic.
It seems equally unfair to dismiss her for the posthumous setting of the exhibition. Who exactly do you see as being worthy of that square footage, and does that assessment apply to all the big street level galleries in Chelsea? The fact that Truitt's work has not been well represent in New York would make it a good candidate for this sort of exhibition; it's at least nice to be able to see it for ourselves to come our conclusions.
briandupont June 28, 2010
Brian, most minimalist-style work was discussed as a kind of theatrical, phenomenological, unfolding blah blah. You walk around the work noting where one color changes to another and study the bands and their widths—the photo above covers that pretty well, I think. I suppose my basic position is that living artists working in the 'hood making art that is relevant to today should always trump minor art from the provinces dealing with old concerns. Having gone to art school in DC I was very familiar with Truitt, and trust me, you don't really need to know about her. It will become clearer, I hope, as I discuss the Rowe and Pardo shows in the coming days, that most big Chelsea shows these days are about nothing, and not in the Seinfeld sense.
tom_moody June 28, 2010
By looking at the chronology (“evolution”) of these types of Truitt's sculptures — at least as how they're displayed on her website (http://bit.ly/dsgQ40) — it's interesting to note that the stately chromonoliths (word coin) had their formal origins in a white (picket) fence. Moody's description of the gallery as a meaningless antiseptic temple seems to work well with a show whose forms were extrapolated from the quintessential icon for aestheticized, normative suburban protection(ism).
To be fully liberal and tangential, I like to think of this show as an homage to the best Tetris block ever: the “I” tetrominoe (you know, the skinny rectangle block that wipes out *everythang*).
Jesse_P_Martin June 28, 2010
If only minimalism had hewed closer to Truitt than Judd it would be recognized more for what it did for art than how it undermined it.
edravo June 28, 2010
Thanks, Jesse, and edravo. Just as a housekeeping issue, I ask that folks please use the comment box at the bottom of the page, as a courtesy to commenters who came before you and so we have a nice linear, un-poMo thread. I don't plan to respond to any upstream replies.
tom_moody June 28, 2010
While it seems that the the critique of Truitt's work got conflated with a critique of the gallery space itself, it nonetheless opens up some interesting questions:
1) What can be learned/gained by critiquing the use of space in a gallery (particularly as the usage changes from show to show)?
2) Can we separate our associations with the architecture from the work it contains? For instance, as Tom points out, Matthew Marks is not a neutral space. It's massive size is about asserting prestige, it whisper/screams “anything housed within me must be important!”.
3) Wouldn't it be fun to start critiquing the architecture of gallery spaces independently of the work they show? I'm thinking Top 10 Best, Worst, and Most Interesting. Or maybe small venues deserve their own category. I love the way the exposed wooden beams in Mary Boone get nested into the wall yet I often find it completes (sometimes outdoes) the works on view. So how does one rate such a space?
saul_chernick June 28, 2010
1) Maybe a lot. It sounds like a good idea to do a long-term study of a few gallery spaces. I guess the question is, what do you measure? Do you just make observations or do you track some sort of objective data?
2) Well probably not. It's like the Calder show at Gagosian a couple of months ago. It was just silly how much space was around those 5 pieces, especially since you would normally see them outdoors.
3) It would be fun, but wouldn't a way to critique be centered around the interaction with the work? I suppose you could rate by categories: Good in the Dark, Good for 3D, Good for _____, etc. The key would be to see them empty, which would be a rarity. Then again, I do go into some spaces where I don't like the work, but I'm struck by how cool the room is.
Mead June 28, 2010