Geo/Metric at MoMA, Part 2

Geo/Metric at MoMA, Part 1 
Geo/Metric at MoMa, Part 4 

The entrance to Gallery 2. A Bridget Riley print is flanked by a grid of nine ink-on-paper works by Tony Smith, and a gouache-on-paper drawing by Jo Baer. Most of the work in this gallery is from the Fifties and Sixties

If my first post reads more like a travelogue of the gallery than a discussion of the work, it’s because I really don’t know how to talk about that early-in-the-last-century work.  Here in the second gallery, my art history is a bit better. This is more contemporary work—though by “contemporary” we’re talking late Fifties and Sixties. Work in black and white is installed in the four corners. The dialog between and among these works, mediated by everything else in the gallery, is animated. You join in visually, the way you might join a conversation at a cocktail party, a bit here, a bit there. Because the space is small—and because this unsung show is almost deserted—it is easy to maneuver, and there are many such conversations to join.

Bridget Riley. Untitled (Fragment 1) from a series of seven screenprints on Perspex, 1965
So let’s enter the gallery. The optically invigorating screenprint on Perspex (that’s plexiglass to you and me) by Bridget Riley is crisp and fresh, though it dates from 1965. Riley has mellowed in recent years but I remain enamored of the painter who muscled her way into the art scene of the Sixties with her retinally explosive Op paintings. This print, all aggressive angles and vigorous energy, is a fitting metaphor for what it must have taken for a young woman to create a place for herself back then. Plus it’s fabulous.

Over your left shoulder is a black and white work by Myron Stout, one of the great albeit not-so-well-known painters of modernist geometry (or is it geometric modernism?). You’ll see it in a bit as we swing around the gallery. Visible to your left is a wall of gouache and ink works by Ellsworth Kelly. I’m lukewarm about Kelly’s mature work, but these early paintings and collages I love. Their small size and wonderful color, and Kelly's exploration of related shapes and hues, and the dialog between the color and the black and white is still snappy after all these years.

Ellsworth Kelly. Line Form Color, 1951, ink on paper (the black and white work) and colored and pasted colored paper on colored paper. Kelly described the works--from a group of 40 that he created--as "an alphabet of plastic pictorial elements."

Below: Tony Smith, 4/26/61 (a suite of nine drawings), 1961, ink on paper. (Beyond the wall is a peek at one of a series of small works by Martin Creed in the next gallery)

The gridded installation format continues with the ink-on-paper works of Tony Smith. Is it me or do the photographs of Berndt and Hilla Becher come to mind? Certainly it’s the installation, but it’s also the architectural quality of the images, the black and white, and the slight variations, each worthy of close viewing, within the theme.

A doorway to the large third gallery comes next, but we’re going to continue our tour around Gallery 2 and stop at the two gems by Jo Baer, both gouache on paper. You see the small one on the right when you enter the gallery; it and a partial view of the Smiths flank Riley’s print in a pas de trois of angular black and white.
Up close you can appreciate the energy of the lines in Baer's small work, brushed on confidently with a free hand—and that red line, not quite tentative, yet not fully assertive, traverses the length of the inside space just under the defining upper edge. There’s just the tiniest bit of space between the light red line and the bolder black swipe above it. Then you notice its counterpart at the bottom of the frame. It sits atop the black line there. Is it resting or lying in wait? What energy and equipoise contained in such a tiny space! (See Carol Diehl's review in AiA of what Baer has been up to more recently.)

Two by Jo Baer, both untitled, from 1965 and 1963, gouache on paper. ( Peeking into Gallery 3, we see Gabriel Orozco's digital print wallpaper)
Below, the untitled work from 1963, 5.5 x 7 inches sans frame

Continuing around, we see works by the Brazilians Helio Oiticica, most gouache on board, that are beauties of modernist geometry, and Lygia Clark, whose two black-and-white collages are placed in the diagonally opposite corner to the Tony Smiths and opposite the Jo Baers. The balance of content and placement is this exhibition is staggeringly good!

Work in gouache on board from 1958 and 1959 by Helio Oiticica, above
Below, more by Oiticica and by Lygia Clark in cut and pasted paper on paper. (To orient you: just to the right of the Clarks is the entrance to this gallery)

Now we back ourselves almost into Gallery 3 so that we can take in the foreground and background of this space. On the wall behind the Bridget Riley print is this gouache-on-paper painting by Mary Heilmann, below. Look at the dialog of blues between it and the Oiticica on the left. Pulling back farther, you see the Myron Stout drawing which had not been visible as we entered. The Stout work faces the Tony Smith grid; the exchange of positive and negative planes and spaces between these two installations is so compelling that you might be at a tennis game for the amount of head swinging you do. Through the doorway into Gallery 1 you can see the Hans Arp collage which I showed in the previous post.

Mary Heilmann, above and below, Davis Sliding Square, 1978, synthetic polymer paint on paper, 29 7/8 x 22 1/2
Above, work by Oiticica is to the left of Heilmann's painting. Below, Myron Stout's choarcoal and pastel drawing is visible to the right, and beyond that, a collage by Hans Arp in Gallery 1

Heilmann is a personal favorite. I find her particular brand of geometry and color both rigorous and sensuous. Neither a minimalist nor a materialist (or perhaps a little of both), she knows exactly how much to put into every painting—or maybe exactly how much to leave out. This work, from 1978, is more recent than most of the other work in the room. Presumably that’s because it leads you into the large Gallery 3, the site of the newest work in the exhibition.

Heilmann's work faces this view of Gallery 3, which is where we’re going in the next post.

Next stop: Gallery 3


Anonymous said...

Seems like a great show. Looking at all the walls that you photographed, some were set up as a continuation of the work, and some it seemed, were set up regardless of it.
That was the only thing that puzzled me.
I wish I had a chance to see that show.

Joanne Mattera said...

The semi-attached dividing walls created two spaces within the larger space, but there was nothing divisive about the installation, which allowed for interactive looking and dramatic vantage points.

Anonymous said...

You shouldn't have been photographing in the museum. Shame on you.

Joanne Mattera said...

This is the problem with anonymous comments: You feel free to pass judgment with no responsibility for what you say. Shame on me? I wrote in the opening paragraph of Part 1 that because this work is in the MoMA collection, visitors were free to photograph it.