Motherlode: Anne Truitt at Matthew Marks

Marketing Mondays will return next week
I was going to title this piece Towers of Power, but the fact is that Anne Truitt’s totemic forms have nothing to do with brute strength. For over 40 years, from 1962 to 2004, the year she died, the Washington, D.C.-based sculptor created minimalist, mostly monochromatic, four-sided forms with a quiet, allusive presence.

Because the central exhibition space is so large, and each work is placed at a distance from the others, you are free to walk between and among the works, which are roughly human in scale, some shorter, some taller. It’s a cliché to say that you become one with the work, but the act of viewing these 10 works from so many vantage points, each with its own relationship to the others, is undeniably intimate. (There are individual works in each of three smaller galleries, which appear at the end of this post.)
Ambient light affects your sensation of the work. With its large skylights, the Matthew Marks gallery on 22nd Street amplifies that sensation. Shadows change throughout the day. Is that a bluish shadow on a white sculpture, or is one side of the work actually painted a light blue? It is light blue. Is that tall red work all one hue, or are the facets different? It’s all one color, modulated by shadow. In another, what appears initially to be black is actually midnight blue. And a white form is in fact palest lavender with two tonal bands at the bottom. When your eyes become accustomed, the forms are fairly blazing with color. Truitt painted in acrylic, but the matte surface has the milky richness of casein.

This is the the view from the entrance to the gallery. The yellow work in the center Sun Flower, 1971, is 72 x 12 x 12 inches. Let this work be your visual anchor as you travel clockwise around the gallery

Below, a view from the opposite corner. First Spring, 1981, is the blue faceted work to the right of Sun Flower; Return, 2004, the dark red piece at the left of the frame, is the artist's final sculpture

Continuing clockwise we come to this view. There's a gallery to my back containing Pith, which you'll see farther down. Foreground, The Sea, The Sea is deep blue

Below, and following are views I liked. Seeing the images here, I get a sense of musical or mathematical notation, something I didn't see when I was walking up close among the forms


View of Sun Flower, with a shift in color that zips up the length of one side
Up close, you can see that Truitt was as much a painter as a sculptor. Her color, created with many layers of thinly applied paint, often features the slightest shift in hue. In Sun Flower, the squat cadmium yellow work around which all the others seem to revolve, two yellows abut. You don’t see the color shift at first--indeed, you barely see it from four inches away—but as you look, your retina registers this most subtle of subtleties and you follow it from eye level up to the top and down to where it stops just above the floor.

Another thing you see when you’re looking closely is that the bottom of each sculpture is usually different from the top. With few exceptions, the works are set on a recessed plinth so that they appear to be hovering just slightly above the floor (they’re weighted internally so they don’t tip over). Chromatically there’s often a band of color at the bottom or top, something that shifts the visual weight just slightly. An installation video on the gallery website shows these details quite well.
Return, 2004, the artist's last work

First Spring and The Sea, The Sea
Through the doorway in the background . . .
. . . you enter a small, street-facing gallery with Pith. This work, from 1969, is singular for its bulk, 18x18 inches around, and its height, over seven feet tall


White: Four, 1962, latex-based enamel on wood, 87.75 x 20 x 7 inches
A small back gallery houses this one work from early in Truitt's career. I've always thought this little room had a chapel-like quality, and the combination of white sculpture and afternoon light created an unexpectedly gentle moment. (This looks like a black-and-white photo buit it was shot in color)
A third small gallery houses one additional solitary work. My pictures of it were not good enough to post (it was hard to shoot), but you can see it on the gallery website

The narrative of the titles is intentional. Profound personal experiences were distilled into a particular hue and onto an attenuated form with a particular proportion. "I've struggled all my life to get maximum meaning in the simplest possible form," Truitt said in a 1987 interview, which was referenced in her 2004 obituary in the Washington Post.
The show is up through June 26.


LXV said...

Joanne, thank you. What stunning photographs! This show looks a good deal better curated & installed than the Hirschhorn exhibit last winter where they had the work corralled onto little islands and you missed that essential connection to the floor. The simple plinth device is so important to her work. I believe it foreshadowed the ubiquitous "reveal" detail of '80s architecture. We tend to forget that art always comes first. I used to think the cycle was about 20 years before an artist's vision was assimilated into the mainstream of design, but as with all things in the computer era, the timeframe becomes increasingly compressed.

Georgia Gray said...

Yes - the plinth design popped up in many public spaces in the 90'S in Melbourne - our Bolte bridge and various sculptures to decorate new freeways. None with the subtlety and beauty of Truitt work. Wish I could see the exhibition.
Thank you - Joanne for your post.

ken weathersby said...

There is so much about Truitt's work and the show at M. Marks that requires slow contemplative seeing. Your post captures the subtleties amazingly well--

anne mcgovern said...

Thank you for your fascinating post on Anne Truitt's work. The photos are exceptional!

Melanie Millar said...

one word: sublime--the work and the installation.
thanks for sharing

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the photographs of this exhibit! I wish there was a way to convince the Walker Art Center to display their one Truitt piece. I guess I'll just keep asking and asking... Andrea

Adria Arch said...

Don't forget that Anne Truitt was also a wonderful writer. Go out and read her trilogy of memoirs - a mother and an artist trying to stay true to her work. I made my pilgrimage to see this show last weekend, after having been a fan of her writing for many years.