A hallway on the second floor at MoMA leading to Geo/Metric. This work is from the untitled Forms Derived From a Cube, by Sol Lewitt, from a portfolio of etchings and aquatint
The wall text describes the show as “an informal survey of the impulse toward geometric abstraction in visual art over the past century.” It’s a worthy premise represented by a wonderful selection of work. A wide-ranging show in four large galleries, it begins with the Cubists and Suprematists in the early 1900s; continues on to Minimalism, Op and hard-edge abstraction; and ends with new work by younger artists like Mark Grotjahn and Olaf Nicolai.
Starr Figura, the associate curator of prints and illustrated books, and Kathleen Curry, assistant curator for research and collections, are to be commended. Not only is the show beautifully selected, it’s installed in a way that from any vantage point you may see something of the historical range on exhibition. Moreover, they did not exclude the contributions of women artists to this genre. Sophie Taeuber Arp, Hannah Hoch and Lyubov Popova are in the first gallery; Bridget Riley, whose acute-angled print on plexiglass opens the second gallery, is followed with work by Jo Baer, Lygia Clark, Mary Heilmann, Agnes Martin and Dorothea Rockburne.
If you follow this blog, you know that color and abstract geometric work are two elements I seek out, so this exhibition is a little slice of heaven.
To orient you to the space as I take you around, know that the galleries for this exhibition are laid out geometrically. Envision a square divided in thirds horizontally. The bottom third is Gallery 1, where you enter (the two images below). The top third is Gallery 3. The middle third is divided in half vertically into the smaller Galleries 2 and 4. Galleries 1, 2 and 4 are painted light gray; the large gallery 3 is creamy white. Got that?
Two from Kazemir Malevich, above: Suprematist Elements: Squares, 1923, pencil on paper, 19 3/4 x 14 1/4; and Suprematist Element: Circle, 1923, pencil on paper, 18 1/2 by 14 3/8
Below: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Untitled from Konstruktionen, 1923, lithograph, 23 9/16 x 17 5/6 inches. This is one from a portfolio of six lithographs
Turning to the left side of the room there’s work by Lyubov Popova and Frantisek Kupka. I find the installation of these works jarring. The placement of the sixth Popova on the wall above the line of five seems like an afterthought, and I would have liked a more formal installation of the Kupka works, in keeping with the rest of the show. (Pay no attention to the glimpse of Ellsworth Kelly gouaches in Gallery 2; we’ll get to them in the next post.)
On the wall at left, gouache and ink paintings on paper by Frantisek Kupka from 1912. On the wall at right, linoleum block prints with gouache and watercolor by Lyubov Popova. (I never heard of them either, but it was interesting to see the work in the context of this exhibition.)
Below, a work from Popova's Untitled from Six Prints, 1916-1917,13.5 by 10.25. This image from MoMA's feature on the artist
The wall on which the Kupkas are hung is a divider. (Each of the four galleries has a divider, however those in the other galleries are placed in the geographic center, whereas this one is placed so that it creates a vestibule for the second entrance to the exhibition. We'll get behind the wall in a moment.) To the left of the Kupka wall are small works by Jean (Hans) Arp, Hannah Hoch and Sophie Taeuber Arp..
Mondrian before the boogie woogie: Pier and Ocean 5 (Sea and Starry Sky, 1915, charcoal and watercolor on paper, 34 5/8 x 44 inches
On the other side of the Kupka wall is the Mondrian. I love the intersecting verticals and horizontals in an oval field, the whole contained with the horizontal rectangle of the frame placed against the larger vertical rectangle of the wall.
Behind your left shoulder as you look at the Mondrian are a collage each by Braque and Picasso, continuing their eternal conversation about Cubism. To the right of the Picasso is the entrance to Gallery 2, which is where we’re going in the next post.
Above: Georges Braque, Guitar, 1913, cut and pasted printed and painted paper, charcoal, pencil and gouache on gessoed canvas, 39 1/4 x 25 5/8 inches. Right, Pablo Picasso, Guitar, cut and pasted paper and printed paper, charcoal, ink and chalk on colored paper on board, 26 1/8 x 19 1/2 inches
Below: The entrance to Gallery 2, with a screenprint on plexiglass by Bridget Riley. This is where we'll begin next time