Joan Mitchell, Before, Again I (1985), via David Zwirner
This month at David Zwirner in New York, the gallery presents a series of works painter Joan Mitchell, focusing in particular on the years 1979 to 1985—a significant and deeply generative period within her decades-long career. Presented at the gallery’s 537 West 20th Street location in New York, the show brings together a series of paintings from both public and private collections, as well as from the holdings of the Joan Mitchell Foundation, and coincides with the final leg of the artist’s critically acclaimed retrospective—previously on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Baltimore Museum of Art—which is on view at Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris through February 27, 2023.
Joan Mitchell, Untitled (1980), via David Zwirner
Mitchell established a singular visual vocabulary over the course of her more than four-decade career. While rooted in the conventions of abstraction, Mitchell’s reinterpretation of the traditional figure-ground relationship and remarkable adeptness with color set her apart from her peers, and resulted in intuitively constructed and emotionally charged compositions that alternately conjure individuals, observations, places, and points in time. Her prodigious oeuvre encompasses not only the large-scale abstract canvases for which she is best known, but also smaller paintings, drawings, and prints. For Mitchell, this period, which included her important 1982 solo exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris, was a time of profound artistic development, growth, and focus on the possibilities of painting. As she became even more fully immersed in daily life at her property in Vétheuil, France—surrounded by lush gardens, and challenged and inspired by new creative relationships––Mitchell’s studio practice flourished, and her work became even more ambitious and expansive.
Joan Mitchell, Untitled (c. 1984), via David Zwirner
The exhibition includes a selection of the dynamic and resolved canvases Mitchell produced during these years in a range of formats, from ambitiously scaled multipanel works that are among the largest of her career to intimate single-canvas compositions, demonstrating her transition from the controlled structure of her mid-to-late-1970s paintings to the virtuosic allover compositions of the 1980s. Executed in an increasingly bold palette, these works exemplify her nuanced mastery of composition, scale, and color. The earliest painting in the exhibition, Wood, Wind, No Tuba (1979; The Museum of Modern Art, New York) marks Mitchell’s reimmersion in her Vétheuil studio following the departure of Jean Paul Riopelle, her companion of more than two decades, earlier that year. Dominated by a palette of radiant orange—one of the bright and vivid hues that recurs throughout Mitchell’s canvases of the early 1980s—the short, staccato brushstrokes that nearly fill the large-scale diptych suggest a renewed sense of confidence that would carry through the remainder of the artist’s career.
Joan Mitchell, Then, Last Time IV (1985), via David Zwirner
Not seen publicly in more than twenty years, the quadriptych Chez ma soeur (My Sister’s House) (1981; private collection) counts amongst Mitchell’s largest paintings. Executed during a period in which her beloved sister Sally was in the throes of a protracted battle with cancer, the work draws on Mitchell’s memories of time spent at Sally’s home in Santa Barbara, California, poetically balancing the suggestion of a landscape with a sense of tenderness and self-contained interiority.
A number of small-scale canvases from across this period also punctuate the exhibition. Throughout her career, Mitchell played with scale, frequently creating intimately sized works in both single and multi-panel formats that reflect her overall compositional dynamism and experimental approach to her practice. Mitchell was able to easily move these compositions around her studio—recombining, comparing, and contrasting them—allowing her to create myriad variations on a theme.
Offering a dense and expansive look at this period in the artist’s work, the show is on view through December 17th.
– C. Rhinehart
Joan Mitchell at David Zwirner [Exhibition Site]