Geo/Metric at MoMa, Part 3

Geo/Metric at MoMA, Part 1
Geo/Metric at MoMa, Part 2
Geo/Metric at MoMa, Part 4

With Mary Heilmann’s cadmium yellow and ultramarine painting at your back, you're facing Gallery 3. This large space is the mirror twin to Gallery 1 (just as Gallery 4 is the mirror twin to Gallery 2). The walls are creamy white rather than gray, and the space at this end is dominated by color and geometry on a large scale.


Left: Gabriel Orozco, Samurai's Tree Invariant, 2006, series of 672 digital prints with digital files, composition and sheet, each 21 7/16 x 21 7/16. Right: Martin Creed, Work No. 341, 2008, felt-tip pen and ink on seven pieces of paper, each 11 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches


Let’s enter. To your left, at the far wall, is an installation of digital print “wallpaper” by Gabriel Orozco. To your right, image below, Olaf Nikolai has the dividing wall that faces you; it’s covered with long rectangular sheets of commercially printed glossy paper arranged in a vertical “brick” pattern. On the other side of the Nikolai wall is a Daniel Buren installation, which you will see as we progress through the gallery. And at the far right wall is a large modular Robert Ryman, which you can just glimpse in the image below, but we’ll get to a better picture of it in a bit. All of these works are composed of smaller elements amassed and ordered to form a whole. The curatorial concept is beautifully thought out, as is the color: brilliant hues on the Orozco/Nikolai side of the room; a more muted palette—mostly white—on the other.

Olaf Nikolai, 30 Farben (30 Colors), 2000-2005, portfolio of 90 offset prints, each app. 40 x 12 inches. To the left of the Nikolai wall, Dorothea Rockburne's folded prints; behind it, Robert Ryman's modular painting on paper


Now the particulars. I’d seen the wall of Orozco’s work at one of the fairs (Basel Miami, I think). It initially caught my eye, but to be honest, it seemed more suited for a home show and I kept walking. I looked more closely this time, and while there are some interesting variations in the composition and in the colorways of blue, gold, white and red, it still looks and feels like wallpaper.

Martin Creed provided a nice counterpoint in scale. So, it’s not always about size. His seven small works are tiny color fields—color plots?—executed for the most part in day-glo felt-tip pen, each a different color. Any one might not make you stop, but the group of them holds the wall and your attention. This is the guy who won the Turner Prize for his [in]famous piece in which the lights in a gallery are switched on and off, so he understands how to get your attention. (Sorry I don't have closeups to show you; my images came out blurry and the museum's site doesn't have pics of them.)

One module from the Orozco installation


Continuing our turn around this half of the gallery, we come upon the central dividing wall on which Olaf Nikolai’s work is displayed. I wrote about Nikolai in a recent post about color. Carolina Nitsch, the gallery that showed his work, is the publisher of these prints. The piece is 30 Farben (30 Colors), a portfolio of long rectangular sheets of offset-printed paper, each a commercially available hue selected from the Pantone palette. According to the wall placard, the artist encourages his collectors to arrange the portfolio to their own preference. If the curators devised this arrangement, kudos. I can’t imagine a better arrangement for the wall, or a better placement than on this wall. To me, the whole is greater than its parts.

Mark Grotjahn’s paintings are to the right, just out of view. We’ll get to them in a bit, but for now, let’s look beyond the Olaf wall into the the other half of the gallery. To the left: Dorothea Rockburne’s series of creased paper; to the right, on the far wall, Robert Ryman’s 12-segment print.

Here’s Rockburne’s wall, below, with closeups of two works below that. I love the quiet and subtlety of these work. And it’s no small feat that in a room of demanding color, this wall—indeed, each work within it— holds its own. The placard identified the work as an acquatint. I would have ascribed the tonal differences to the light hitting the various planes of the folded paper. Not bring a print person, I’m not sure when and how during the process they were folded.

Dorothea Rockburne, Locus, 1972, a series of six relief etchings and aquatints on folded paper, each 39 3.4 x 30 1/16 inches.

Below, two pieces from the series. Images from the MoMa website

Continuing around the second half of the gallery, below: Robert Ryman, Classico 5, 1968, synthetic polymer paint on paper, 12 units overall 93 1/4 x 88 1/2 inches. Three drawings from Agnes Martin are to the right


The interplay of elements between and among the work of Rockburne, Ryman and Martin is captivating: Rockburne’s fractured planes, modulated so that they read as positive and negative space, vis a vis the Ryman panels, where a whiter rectangle is placed within the larger elements. It’s also fractured, but in the most formally organized way. Agnes Martin’s three small ink-on-paper drawings engage in a call-and-response with Rockburne and Ryman—well, make that a whispered exchange: her small individual grids vis a vis Ryman’s giant grid installation; her trapezoid drawing vis a vis Rockburne’s angles. Metaphorically, it’s like the grownups conversing quietly in the living room about art, math and music while the kids party at full volume in the the basement.

Agnes Martin, above and below

Above, Trapezoid, 1960, ink and pencil on paper, 9 3/8 x 11 7/8 inches unframed. Below, Tremolo, 1962, ink on paper, 10 x 11 inches unframed


While we’re talking party, let’s swing around to the right of the Nikolai wall so that you can see Mark Grotjahn’s four framed colored-pencil-on paper drawings. Wildly energetic, their palette has everything in common with Nikolai, yet their crystalline compositions have much in common graphically with Riley and formally with Rockburne. How I wish there were a catalog for this show. I’d love to know what precipitated these particular acquisitions, and if they were made with one another in mind, and how the show was selected from MoMA’s stash.

Back in the chromatically assertive half of the gallery, we see four high-energy drawings by Mark Grotjahn. (Barely visible in Gallery 4 is a wall of Albers's prints. We'll get to them in the next and final post)

Below, Grotjahn's Untitled (blue and yellowish cream), 2002, colored pencil on paper, each 24 x 19 inches unframed


To reorient you, below is a view of where we entered--from the doorway on the left. Ryman is to our back, Rockburne unseen on the right, Martin on the left. Ahead of us is Daniel Buren’s installation. Grotjahn is visible to the left, Creed to the right. Orozco is out of view at the far wall.

Daniel Buren, Framed/Exploded/Defaced, 1978-79, aquatint cut into 25 squares

What is the sequence here in Buren’s installation? Is there a message? Trying to “decipher” a meaning from this installation of stripes and spaces is like trying to read a newspaper in, say, German. I recognized the elements, but I just didn't know what it was telling me until I went onto the exhibition website. In fact the work is about expansion and contraction and your perceptions of space. This is an aquatint that the artist cut into 25 equal squares that must expand to fit whatever wall is chosen for them. So this wall, both sides, is heavily weighted with curatorial decisions. (If only there had been an essay!)

Despite the "explosion" of the title, the energy of the work is contained securely within each module. That's an interesting push/pull. Formally I love the relationship of this work to Grotjahn's angularities and Creed's more-or-less deadpan drawings.

We're about to enter Gallery 4, whose entrance is just to the left of the Grotjahns

Next and last post: Gallery 4.



Anonymous said...

As always, I love your coverage of geometric art shows, and I particularly like these recent ones of the exhibition at MoMA. Just one question: how the hell did you manage to get all those nice shots without a million people standing in front of the works?

Joanne Mattera said...


Easy. Everyone was up at the Dali exhibition. I spent well over an hour in the galleries of this show, and maybe five people wandered in and out during that time.

Stay tuned. I'll try to complete Part 4 this weekend. (Next week it's on to Louise Bourgeois at the Guggenheim--another incredible show, but the exact opposite in terms of population density; it was stuffed with visitors all the way up to the top of the ramp.)