Comprising work made between 1960 and the present, Bridget Riley: Painting Now at Sprüth Magers LA surveys the development of the British artist’s career-long exploration of looking and seeing in relation to the capacities of painting and picture making. Her work, consisting of tightly-interlocked bands of color and explorations of the potential for relief and tension in the presentation of visual stimuli, is presented here in its development of optically-elusive, challenging pieces, ones that make the viewer acutely aware of the act of looking.
The subtitle of this exhibition, ‘Painting Now’, is taken from that of Riley’s William Townsend Memorial Lecture, given at the Slade School of Fine Art, London, in 1996. In her lecture, Riley made a personal, generational and art-historical case for the tireless capacity of painting as a form of art, in the face of fashion or shifting ideas about its purpose or relevance, to be in a state of perpetual and inspirational renewal. The artist posed the form of painting not only as one under constant assertion of its own death, but one that equally has seen its history changed or manipulated over the belief in this death. Here, the artist’s work is presented not as a response to any historical mode, but rather in an ongoing and fluid exchange with the history of painting as it continues to change and evolve outside her own practice.
Presented in Los Angeles, the artist’s work is emphasized in its parallels with the Light and Space practitioners who developed their craft nearby, and who remain a formative corner of the exhibition roster of Sprüth Magers. The exhibition includes examples of early black-and-white paintings by Riley, such as the lyrical Horizontal Vibration (1961) and the undulating Descending (1965), which at the time linked her work to the so-called Op Art movement of the sixties, but are best understood as explorations into the gaps between visual phenomena, perception, and consciousness. In either mode, space and perception are emphasized, much in the same manner that so many Los Angeles contemporaries sought to suspend their works in extended states of intermingling with the viewer and the world around them.
Arranged by conceptual and compositional leanings rather than chronology, the exhibition offers visitors unusual insight into the artist’s thought processes, working methods, and deep engagement with the history of painting. Her pieces move between taut lines and environmental designs, allowing space and time to move at different paces and flows from piece to piece. The artist’s recent disc paintings and wall paintings from Measure for Measure and other series extend this line of inquiry into the present, its palette of orange, lavender and green moving full circle back to the artist’s early landscapes. Throughout, the eye’s pathway remains at the center of this circle, ultimately tracing her work back to the start. Much in the same way that Riley argued against historical fatalism in the history of painting, her work creates its own continuums, moving in all directions at once, almost as dizzying in scope as it is in its composition.
The show is on view through January 26th.
— C. Rhinehart
Bridget Riley at Sprüth Magers [Exhibition Site]