Tag Archives: Joan Mitchell

“Joan Mitchell: I Carry My Landscapes around with Me”

At David Zwirner, 537 W. 20th St., through July 12, 2019.

Abstract Expressionist  painting (and this is that) is not so much about reflecting visual reality but making parallel 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 optics.  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 reedy, 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. 

Detail/installation shot: Joan Mitchell, Riviere, 1990 (at David Zwirner, 537 W. 20th St., NYC (6/22/19).

Random Sightings

Tara Donovan at Pace (25th Street; through 8/15):

With toy beasts on the brain (see post, 8/4), a peek into Pace yielded what appeared, from a slight distance, to be a big fuzzy creature that, upon approach, deconstructed into an eccentric abstraction of innumerable, spiky plastic pick-up sticks/rods.  Cool.

Tara Donovan, 2014 (installation at Pace, 8/14)
Tara Donovan, 2014 (installation at Pace, 8/14)

Also on view, a human-scale topographical tableau of obsessively arranged index cards, intuitive and methodical, with a similar sense of shifting textures and associative crossings between abstraction and representation.

Tara Donovan at Pace (8/14)
Tara Donovan at Pace (8/14)

Joan Mitchell at Cheim Read (through 8/29):

With the increasing extravagance (that about covers it, for better and worse) of contemporary art in the past c. 50 years, I was anxious to test my experience of old-fashioned, modernist-type, intuitive, non-ironic, signature mark-making painting (aka Abstract Expressionism) with a look at a group of Mitchell’s “Trees” (dating from the 1960s – 90s; most from the 1970s).  What a near literal breath of fresh air.  (Sorry.)  Just the artist and the (endless) canvas (also paper/pastels) . . .  and somewhere very close by, viewers readily sense, trees.  An extension of breezy gesture, yet tangled and searching; continuous, unselfconscious elegance.  One painting features loosely woven strands of Alizarin crimsons and Mars reds, known as “difficult” colors to blend and control in traditional oil painting pedagogy (for several prismatic and material reasons in terms of the pigment binding, as I vaguely recall from a painting class discussion long, long ago).  Others employ subtle, shifting greens, not one shade nameable, breaking through the white-embellished painting fields.  You really have to be there (but brief references, below).

Joan Mitchell, "Red Tree" (1976).
Joan Mitchell, “Red Tree” (1976; at Cheim Reid, 8/14).

Joan Mitchell, "Cypresses" (1975) at Cheim Reid (8/14)
Joan Mitchell, “Cypresses” (1975; at Cheim Reid, 8/14)