At David Zwirner, 537 W. 20th St., through July 12, 2019.
Abstract Expressionist painting (and this is that) is not about reflecting visual reality but making visual reality. And the making of the making, funneled through vision. That doesn’t mean the results necessarily or not refer to nothing beyond themselves nor that this aspect is incompatible with intuitive, gestural, self-referential or other aspects associated with its aesthetic terrain as historicized. For example, reading Mark Rothko’s horizontally segmented compositions as landscapes or Clyfford Still’s stalactite forms geological, whatever the artists’ non-objective intentions. Mitchell skews closer to the edge of nature (as per the artist quote and exhibition title above), encasing atmospheric experience in the picture plane with an economy of drippy, weave-y brushwork and a joie de la coleur that evoke Fauvism—the Matisse reference per se also on point—rather than topographic environment. Part of that may be absorbed from the prolonged close proximity (literally and figuratively) to the landscapes of Monet, whose own abstract-leaning work hovers between encroaching blindness and close-up vision. Yet the large-scale multi-panel format (as in Monet’s late work) itself echoes or mirrors spatial expanse despite its ontological flatness.
Anyway, each example in this survey, spanning four decades, is energetically gorgeous–a profusion of signature weedy, ribbon-y brushstrokes with spots of blank canvas spraying light from behind. The painted strands gather densely in places and in others fray into surface maps and pathways, while color runs the gamut across seasons and terrain in associative juxtapositions, inadvertently and not. In some cases, Mitchell got away with very little—a very high complement. Minnesota (1980), a breezy brilliant discourse on yellow and shadow in the glare of the white backdrop, is a fave from now on. Elsewhere, she invites us to wallow deeper into layered representation as well as the metaphoric free range of the studio.