New York

Anne Truitt

André Emmerich Gallery

Anne Truitt is probably best known for her published journals. Daybook, 1982, and Turn, 1986. Although her first solo exhibit took place in 1963, her relationship to the pivotal contemporary art movements of Minimalism, Color Field painting, and Pop art remains elusive. This may be due, in part, to her infrequent exhibitions in New York; she has shown only five times since 1969. With a group of 16 works that survey 30 years of her career, this exhibition attempts to bolster Truitt’s critical and historical position in the canon of contemporary art.

The installation begins chronologically with four sculptures from 1961 and 1962 grouped together in a room. Though reductivist in form, these early works simultaneously reference the domestic world. First, 1961, is a freestanding arrangement of wooden lathes with pointed tops positioned vertically like a white picket fence. Indeed, the scale and design are so close to that of an actual gate that the piece seems to have been uprooted from a suburban lawn and relocated to the gallery. This displacement is enhanced by two horizontal braces that hold the vertical slats together and extend past either side. Like Piet Mondrian’s infinite grid, the cropped lattice suggests an interrupted continuum that reaches beyond its frame. First is particularly illuminating, for it possesses formal properties that do not adhere to a pure Minimalist lexicon; it is pictorial, composed, and not “true to its materials.”

While these ingredients typify the strengths in Truitt’s work, they are also responsible for its relative obscurity. In hindsight, her early efforts can be read as a critique of Minimalism in a similar manner to those of Joel Shapiro or even Robert Gober, by virtue of the work’s combination of a reductivist idiom with domestic references. At the time of its inception, however, the work’s overt pictorialism did not conform to current avant-garde imperatives. Her sculptures could not be taken as strict proponents of Frank Stella’s dictum “What you see is what you see,” which became a fitting slogan for Minimalism proper. Truitt’s focus on color and its arrangement in relation to the monumental wood construction render her affinity with artists like Donald Judd less secure. Indeed, her later sculptures function like three-dimensional paintings and can be more closely aligned with the work of Ad Reinhardt and the constructions of Burgoyne Diller.

In her later work, the pictorial references fade away and monolithic abstract forms emerge. Instead of thin monochromatic planar surfaces, the scale is enlarged and colors multiply. The most recent work exhibited, Avonlea, 1991, encapsulates many of Truitt’s mature esthetic concerns. Standing like a squared column, it is slightly taller than the average viewer, which makes the top inaccessible to the eye. From a distance, the work appears to be a single shade of pale yellow, but as one approaches, the sides divide into three vertical stripes of varying tones. Each is framed by an incised line that structures the object chromatically and spatially, suggesting a bundle of nine squared bars with the color falling upon its surface asymmetrically. Each surface employs the three different shades of yellow in four unique orderings that look completely different from every side. Truitt envisions the work saturated with color to its core, yet due to the presence of her painterly touch, color does not permeate as much as veil.

Billed as a survey of Truitt’s sculptures, the exhibition appears more like an apology for the artist’s absence from the annals of art history. Of the 16 works exhibited, 6 are from 1961–63. The other 28 years are represented by only 10 works. Large periods in the artist’s career are conspicuously omitted, most notably an eight-year gap from 1963 and 1971, and the recent period between 1980 and 1988. The emphasis upon works from Truitt’s formative years begs the viewer to question her relation to Minimalism, which the work most closely resembles morphologically. Yet the rest of the pieces included clearly diverge from Minimalist tendencies addressing coloristic and compositional concerns. The catalogue essay accompanying the exhibition speaks of “revising” and “reexamining” the dogmatic partisanship of Minimalism, lamenting that her work has been “misunderstood,” “misrepresented,” and “dismissed” by those who formulated the critical discourse of the time. It seems that Truitt would have been better served by an exhibition that fleshed out her career internally by including more pieces from the omitted periods, rather than focusing on a body of work that she had effectively abandoned by 1963.

Kirby Gookin