Exhibitions: Learning to Look: The Addison at 90
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A member of the generation of American artists that includes the leading figures of Minimalism and Conceptual Art, Jennifer Bartlett established her stature as an artist with her magnum opus, the 987-plate piece, Rhapsody (1975–76). The massive installation, which debuted at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York in May 1976, quickly attracted the attention of New York Times art critic John Russell, who referred to it as “the most ambitious single work of art” he had seen in New York City.<sup>1</sup>
A sequence of six plates, Lines (Set B) not only predates, but even foreshadows—albeit on a considerably smaller scale—Rhapsody in its grid format and color dot technique. The most notable contrast between Lines (Set B) and Rhapsody is that while the former is comprised in its entirety of abstract geometric compositions, the latter combined monochrome fields and geometric forms with figurative scenes. Yet, even within the six plates of Lines (Set B), there is variation; for instance, while plates a and f present a uniform pattern across the entire twelve-by-twelve-inch surface, others, such as plates c and d function as samplers, each offering three or more patterns.
While drawing parallels between Bartlett’s dots and traditional crafts (such as the stitches of embroidery or the knots of a rug) or digital technologies (such as the pixels of a screen) might seem unavoidable, the artist’s inspiration can actually be traced back to her first encounter with the work of French pointillist painter Georges Seurat. Specifically, while traveling in 1963 by train from her native California to Connecticut, where she attended Yale, she made a stop to visit the Art Institute of Chicago. There, the experience of viewing Seurat’s masterpiece A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884, 1884–86 left an indelible impression on the young artist, who has been known to say, wryly, “When in doubt, dot.”<sup>2</sup>
The artist’s urge to “dot” hints at an important distinction between her and several leading artists of her generation. Unlike many of her peers, like Sol LeWitt, who relied on others—whether the manual labor of studio assistants or the industrial processes of fabricators—Bartlett paints every dot on every plate of every work herself. This emphasis on the individual hand highlights the significance of gesture in Bartlett’s oeuvre; systematic rigor of process, however, along with conceptual underpinnings of meaning that characterized so much of the art in the period—is another continuous thread within her practice. As Bartlett explains, “Usually I begin a piece by making notes on scraps of paper and using what I have. The notes determine the rules I apply to [a painting] before beginning . . . Sometimes the rules change, but I prefer to follow through with them until the end.”
Charles H. Sawyer Curatorial Assistant | Librarian | Archivist
1. Brenda Richardson, “What If?” in <i>Jennifer Bartlett: Early Plate Work</i> (Andover, Massachusetts: Addison Gallery of American Art, 2006), 14.
2. Quoted in Richardson, 23.
This object was included in the following exhibitions:Then and Now, Addison Gallery of American Art, 5/10/2008 - 7/13/2008
Collection Intervention: Ellen Gallagher’s DeLuxe, Addison Gallery of American Art, 1/17/2015 - 5/17/2015
Selections from the Permanent Collection, Addison Gallery of American Art, 9/12/2015 - 3/13/2016
Learning to Look: The Addison at 90, Addison Gallery of American Art, 5/8/2021 - 2/6/2022
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