Walking into Pace Gallery’s expansive exhibition hall on 25th Street in Chelsea, one is greeted by heaving masses of material, great swollen lumps of paint and canvas, bent and twisted into explosively animated forms. These are the works of painter Elizabeth Murray, a pioneering abstractionist whose intuitive work with cut and shaped canvases has underscored her place among the lead voices of post-war painting in the US. At Pace this winter, the gallery has turned its attention to a small body of paintings from the artist’s work during the 1980’s as a continuation of her last show, the fittingly titled Painting in the ‘70s.
This decade by decade exploration of Murray’s work definitely risks a more nuanced exploration of the artist’s craft, seeking out the “definitive” works that served as her lone contributions to the canon of modern painting, but for what the show lacks in breadth, it more than makes up for in sheer visual power. Murray’s works in the show are a visual tour de force, dancing and twisting in and out of each other, or taking more direct routes towards voluminous displays of energy. Works play distinctly with symmetry and angle, forming complex assemblages of line and brushstroke that is only accented and compounded by its sheer accumulation of parts and pieces. The line itself is often the subject of the work, large loping forms lent a blocky, almost cartoonishly three-dimensional accent through the artist’s hand, and then are set to ramble across the surface of the canvas, often cut free from the ground by the artist as if the line had jumped off the page. Rather than take the line for a walk, Murray allows it to soar.
In other works, a jagged, playful series of angles are deployed, giving her works an appearance akin to a jigsaw puzzle, while her gestural embellishments adorn the surface of each piece with a powerful kinetic energy. Murray’s work is acutely aware of spatial tension, and while her work often mines a similar interest in the complex relations of figure and ground that define the work of contemporaries like Frank Stella, her pieces are equally concerned with dialectics of composition at their most essential. Rather than merely setting up pieces to achieve the most acrobatic of spatial feats, Murray’s works are content to turn inwards, towards balance and reflection, in a manner that underscores the complementing aspects of each work, and the ragged sense of completion that seems to sit at the core of so many of her pieces.
The exhibition is on view through January 13th.
— D. Creahan
Elizabeth Murray at Pace Gallery [Exhibition Site]