Group show investigates geometric abstraction among a broad array of artists

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Group show investigates geometric abstraction among a broad array of artists
Sol LeWitt, Irregular Wavy Horizontal Color Bands, 1992. Gouache on paper, 22 x 29 7/8 in. (56 x 76 cm.).

NEW YORK, NY.- Alexander Berggruen is presenting Shapes. This exhibition runs April 21-May 27, 2021 at the gallery: 1018 Madison Avenue, Floor 3, New York, NY, 10075.

This group show investigates geometric abstraction among a broad array of artists. The works included in the exhibition explore the vast possible interpretations of boundless iterations of form. Shapes can operate unhindered by their relation to the space around them. Or shapes can appear as relational fragments, sometimes recalling distinct objects and locations.

Certain artists in this exhibition employ shapes such that their works will operate independently from their surroundings. Ellsworth Kelly stated: “I have worked to free shape from its ground, and then to work the shape so that it has a definite relationship to the space around it; so that it has a clarity and a measure within itself of its parts (angles, curves, edges and mass); and so that, with color and tonality, the shape finds its own space and always demands its freedom and separateness.” (1) Included within Shapes, Kelly’s 1986 Untitled wall relief of polished stainless steel cuts the space adjacent to the wall with its asymmetrical diamond edges, commanding autonomy.

The shapes included in this exhibition exist in a variety of media. Ethan Cook, for example, hand weaves cotton and linen into combinations of color fields. In the artist’s own words: “I wanted to take the painting out of painting and put the color into the fabric, which led me to making the canvas. My work is about exploring the flatness and physicality of the canvas.” (2) In Cook’s 2021 Highways and Byways, imperfect near-quadrilaterals tessellate to fill the rectangular composition. Blocks of tan, cream, blue, and striped mustard and pale yellow repeat in seemingly random patterns, yet all become unified in a cohesive grouping.

Many artists consider shapes to function as fractions of a whole, which, together, form a separate entity in sum. In Joel Shapiro’s 2019 Untitled painted wood sculpture included in Shapes, the artist has joined five wooden rectangular prisms at angled junctures. The resulting sculpture extends animatedly into space, reminiscent of a figure in a joyous pose.

Robert Mangold explores the fragmentation of shapes to communicate, in his words, “the impossibility of completeness.” Mangold stated: “What struck me […] was that so much of what we see, we see in fragments. […] A half-circle is a complete shape despite the implication that it’s not a complete shape. A quarter-circle can be a complete form in and of itself and yet its name implies that it’s a quarter of something more.” (3) Mangold’s 2000 Curled Figure IV depicts a line protruding up from the left and coiling within the composition into a tight, equidistant spiral on the right. Although the pencil line does not reveal an identifiable source or subject, Mangold has titled this line as a “Figure”, implying a sense of totality while maintaining ambiguity.

Where some artists focus on the painted or sculpted fragmented shape, Mary Heilmann inverts the focus on fragmentation to the empty space established by form. In Heilmann’s words: “What seems like empty space is really very full. The drawing that the edges of the canvases make on the wall activates the wall; the architecture becomes part of the work.” (4) In the artist’s 1989 Miss Hunter, mirrored and reversed red L-shaped forms are painted on the lower-left and upper-right registers of the canvas. In the negative space of the canvas, a thick white line snakes between the red forms and around the edge of the pictorial frame.

With an exuberant eye for color and form, Paul Kremer paints configurations that may imply architecture or images from nature. His 2021 Valley Bridge portrays a vermillion circular form, perfectly balanced at the connection between two thin sloping lines inside a two-toned blue valley. At once, this could be seen either as an object resting on a bridge, or rolling, with the direction of the orb’s path unknown. Meanwhile, in Kremer’s Hopper 31, two blocks tower within the canvas, imbued with yellow-orange light. In speaking about his Hopper series, Kremer stated that the 12-foot size of the first painting in the series caused him to picture being inside of Edward Hopper’s 1930 Early Sunday Morning “looking up at the sky from the street level.” The viewer might also imagine industrial chutes and machinery similar to the “forms and straight lines on equipment” Kremer envisioned when painting the work. Kremer’s compositions fluctuate between formal abstractions and objects left to the viewer’s imagination.

Coaxed into sculptural forms, layered with tactile materials, and assembled into larger compositions, Sheree Hovsepian’s pictures oscillate between object and image, creating a sensuous, bodily experience of the photographic document. Hovsepian has stated: “I am interested in exploring my own subjectivity through a vocabulary of various objects, photographs and associations made between these items. I am working with politics of embodiment and looking, which are at the core of my work.” (5) Hovsepian combines silver gelatin prints, photograms, ceramic, wood, string, and nails in her 2019 Grounding, resulting in a compelling argument about the body. On the lower-left, cropped images of the folding backs of two figures are shown side by side. The close crop abstracts their bodies such that they echo the black and white semi-circles rendered in the artist’s photography, ceramics, and wooden blocks, achieving a balance.

Shapes considers how geometric abstraction operates within contemporary painting, drawing and sculpture. Whether the delineated shapes function independently or referentially, the artists included in Shapes remind viewers to look closely at the forms in the world around them.

(1) Ellsworth Kelly, Ellsworth Kelly: Recent Paintings and Sculptures, exh. cat., New York, 1979, p. 7.
(2) Ethan Cook with Gay Gassmann, “Ethan Cook’s Home Is Just as Vibrant as His Artwork”, Architectural Digest, April 3, 2020.
(3) Robert Mangold with Shirley Kaneda, “Robert Mangold by Shirley Kaneda”, BOMB Magazine, July 1, 2001.
(4) Mary Heilmann with Jessica Stockholder, “IN THE STUDIO: MARY HEILMANN”, Artforum, September, 1992.
(5) Sheree Hovsepian with Haley Mellin, “The Musings of Sheree Hovsepian”, GARAGE, August 21, 2020.

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