Truth to Materials

Donald Sultan (American, born 1957) "Lemon Nov 28, 1983", 1983. Oil, plaster, latex paint and tar on vinyl tile mounted on four Masonite panels. 97 1/4 x 98 1/2 inches. Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, N.Y., Gift of The Broad Art Foundation,
Truth to Materials
Permanent Collection Installation
November 4, 2016 to October 30, 2017

The works brought together in this gallery have many different characteristics but one aspect in common— enthusiastic use of tactile materials and willing revelation of the physical process of making. Sculptor Louise Nevelson once said that when she began making her wall pieces in the 1950s, she couldn’t afford traditional art materials, instead foraging in her Manhattan neighborhood for cast-off wooden objects. She discovered an artistic kinship with fellow artist Alfonso Ossorio and frequently visited his estate “The Creeks” on Georgia Pond in Wainscott, where he began to fabricate the bold “Congregations”—vast assemblages of horns, eyes, bones, and shells—that established his reputation as a visionary artist.  

The pictorial organization of John Torreano’s gem-studded plywood painting P.M.’s Mum pays homage to the underlying structure of Piet Mondrian’s early drawings of chrysanthemums. A happy accident brought the abstract-expressionist artist Conrad Marca-Relli to collage when, on a 1953 trip to Mexico, he ran out of paint and began cutting strips of canvas and affixing them to his painting. Josh Tonsfeldt relies less on specific meaning or literal interpretation and more on the strength of puzzlement and ambiguity to engage the imagination of viewers, inviting them to walk around, contemplate, and piece together the strategically placed sensual materials designed to evoke memory.  Alan Shields took painting off the wall and the canvas off the stretcher, deconstructing the warp and woof of the canvas into the lattice of color seen in Devil, Devil Love. Using unconventional materials like oil, plaster, latex paint and tar on vinyl tile, Donald Sultan’s Lemon, Nov. 28, 1983, is a vivid and forcefully graphic interpretation of the still-life tradition. A champion of geometric abstraction,  Leon Polk Smith once observed that he “set out from Mondrian to find a way of freeing this concept of space so that it could be expressed with the use of the curved line as well as straight.’’ Artists like Jack Youngerman continued this dialogue. Consistently working in a non-figurative vein, he has explored intricacies of organic and geometric form in shaped wooden panels.  

Kim MacConnel paints in thin washes on unprimed fabric and then cuts the fabric into strips, often of uneven length, sewing them together to create large wall hangings in jumpy Matisse-like patterns and colors. Turning his attention to non-traditional materials and techniques, Joe Zucker used cotton balls soaked in paint to build up the surface of his paintings, emphasizing the material of the canvas and challenging the idea of a flat picture plane. The exploration of shared memories may be deeply personal in the work of the brothers William and Steven Ladd, but their attachment to materials, seen here in the strips of cotton belting, coiled and arranged in boxes, is what makes meaning in their work. Al Souza uses puzzle pieces as both the material and the subject of his works, bringing together disparate parts to relay fragmentary images that hold to a flat plane yet relay a variety of depths. Here as throughout this gallery, the Modernist statement “truth to materials” rings especially true.