New York

Anne Truitt

Anne Truitt’s show confirms one thing—if none other—about her work: she’s consistent. In fact, in ten years her sculpture seems to have changed virtually not at all. A Washington artist, born in Baltimore in 1921, Truitt depends on color in a way that links her with Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. In connection with this, Roberta Smith reminded me that Clement Greenberg called Truitt the first Minimalist. That, given her dependence on color as a property which qualifies and reduces the material emphasis of her work, doesn’t seem to me a useful way of characterizing what she does. Except for the sense in which the anthropomorphic dimensions of her sculpture suggest a debt to Barnett Newman, she doesn’t seem to have much in common with the most ambitious sculpture of the last decade. Greenberg said, in a catalogue essay written for the Los Angeles County Museum in 1967:

Despite their being covered with rectilinear zones of color, I was stopped by their deadpan “primariness,” and I had to look again and again, and I had to return again, to discover the power of these “boxes” to move and affect. Far-outness here was stated rather than merely announced and signaled. It was hard to tell whether the success of Truitt’s best works was primarily sculptural or pictorial, but part of their success consisted precisely in making that question irrelevant.

Now, alas, Truitt’s sculpture looks the very reverse of far-out. I still find it enjoyable in a way—as I no longer find, for example, Michael Bolus’ sculpture enjoyable—because Truitt uses color with great delicacy, and that is an ability I’m not prepared to write off. However, the result of her delicacy is—as it seems to be in all ’60s sculpture that uses color, except for certain pieces by Anthony Caro—an ornamentalism that’s retiring, not in tension with the space in which the sculpture stands. Whether Truitt’s art functions pictorially or as sculpture is irrelevant because the work is decorative, not because it achieves the synthesis between “literalism” and “abstraction” that one might, perhaps, want to attribute to it. At this stage in the game, I think, one can be neither impressed nor dismayed by Truitt’s achievement, but simply entertained.

Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe