Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Jennifer Bartlett’s History of the Universe


 Air: 24 Hours, Eleven A.M. by Jennifer Bartlett, Smithsonian American Museum of Art,  Gift of Mr and Mr.s Barney A. Ebsworth
In her current show, Jennifer Bartlett: History of the Universe, Works 1970-2011, currently on exhibit at the Parrish Museum in Southampton, Jennifer Bartlett is quoted as saying,  “That’s the only thing I could never figure out--what figurative meant. If a painting is white with a red square in the center, it’s a red square. That is a thing that is just as figurative to me as a blooming peony.” Her “Atlantic Ocean” from l984 is the quintessential Bartlett, a view of the organic that exists within a totally factitious world of abstraction. It’s a grid of enamel covered metallic tiles that are themselves painted over a grid. Cross-hatching accompanies the immersion in water. She’s also quoted in the show as saying, “A house is basically a square and a triangle within a rectangle.” It almost sounds like something Walter Gropius might have said. Tom Wolfe did write a book entitled From Bauhaus to Our House. In her series “Air: 24 Hours” from l991-2 (which is also a subject of a book of commentaries by the fiction writer Deborah Eisenberg) Bartlett uses familiar fragments of everyday life, that include newspaper clippings, as in the painting Air: 24 Hours, Eleven A.M. that render the collage like effects of early cubism. Phillip Guston became a controversial figure when he repudiated abstraction for figuration, but Bartlett occupies another place in the pantheon of modernism to the extent that she refuses such categorization. There's something almost homespun about Bartlett’s brand of abstraction. At times her paintings exude the feeling of Americana, of folk art. The grids look like quilts.

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