The Minimal Gesture brings together a group of cross-generational artists working in the wake of abstract expressionism. The exhibition suggests that the painting practices of these artists are marked by conflicting impulses. Austere signifiers of order such as the grid format, geometric motifs and monochromatic colour palettes are made expressive through playful lines and textured surface. The Minimal Gesture explores the gap between – and improbable proximity of – abstract expressionism and minimalism.
Markus Amm’s work references rigorously formal 20th-century painting, but the seemingly cool geometry of his work is not closed but rather humorously expressive. In Untitled (2010) the apparently freely drawn coloured line is in fact stenciled and in other works it is often hard to ascertain whether lines are painted, or actual physical cracks. Through his painting, Amm confounds and challenges our expectations of what could be ostensibly minimalist works.
Hans Hartung’s paintings of the 1940s and 50s were thought to be gestural abstractions, when in fact they were meticulously planned and copied from drawings and prints. It was only in the 1960s when he started to experiment with spray techniques that his painting became truly spontaneous. The wavering arcs of sprayed black paint in T1988-H30 (1988) turn the decisiveness of the line into a ponderous existential expression.
Since the late 1970s Jonathan Lasker has been committed to a practice which refutes Minimalism’s endgame strategies and the notion of the ‘last painting’. Painting his way back into subject matter via the use of metaphor, Lasker nonetheless simultaneously emphasises the physicality of his works. Typically applying thick and gestural ciphers upon singularly coloured flat fields of paint, Lasker sets up unexpectedly dynamic tensions and dialogues that exceed what we might expect from such a reductive mode of painting.
Agnes Martin’s Untitled No.2 (1991) reveals the artist at her most restrictive in terms of colour and content. On closer investigation, Martin’s thin, hand ruled, graphite lines are broken and uneven. These gaps allow the composition to visually pulse and float beyond the confines of the stretcher.
Peter Peri’s Deep Black (2011) demonstrates the artist’s ongoing investigation into tradition and influence in Modernism. Although made using a process of slow painterly accumulation and erasure, these works nevertheless appear sparse and are suggestive of celestial voids. Peri’s more recent shift to using silver paint further adds to the inherent ambiguity in both the surface texture and illusionistic depth of these compositions, where conflicting planes often generate shifting perspectives.
Although the square surface of Robert Ryman’s paintings and his reduced colour palette signify minimalism, the application of the white paint is gestural, his brushwork seemingly influenced by abstract expressionism. However, through the reiteration of the marks, this gesture is emptied and the surface returned to sameness.
In his early painting Sean Scully worked with horizontal and vertical lines to create geometrically precise paintings with a reductive colour palette. Gradually these linear compositions became more expressive and Scully’s more recent work reinvigorates abstract painting with the metaphorical, the philosophical and the sublime combined with the earthy tangibility of pure paint.
Rudolf Stingel’s gauze works are created by applying a layer of gauze to a wet surface, spraying it with paint and then lifting the gauze off so that the surface bears the imprint of the chance folds and creases. These imperfections are almost gestural and are seen to be creative rather than destructive.
Using avowedly manual techniques, Terry Winters’ paintings allude to digitally suggestive spaces. Underlying patterns link the artist’s range of source materials, which include botanical structures and mathematical systems. Winters reconfigures visual data from things that exist in the world to build painterly alternatives.
Since the 1980s Christopher Wool has concerned himself with the question of how, rather than what, to paint. In the process the artist has brought conceptualist and minimalist strategies to bear on abstract painting via a range of techniques including stenciling, patterned rollers, and spray paint. Wool’s preoccupation with methods of erasure, layering and refrain, and the residual evidence these processes engender, is informed by the artefacts of urban entropy that the artist experiences on a daily basis in the Downtown area of New York City.
An illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition with an introductory essay by Dr David Moos.