New York

Anne Truitt, Untitled, 1986, acrylic on paper, 30 1/4 x 23".

Anne Truitt, Untitled, 1986, acrylic on paper, 30 1/4 x 23".

Anne Truitt

Matthew Marks Gallery

Anne Truitt, Untitled, 1986, acrylic on paper, 30 1/4 x 23".

The overriding aesthetic of the early 1960s was marked by Clement Greenberg’s procrustean sense of historical inevitability. Anne Truitt first met the demanding critic in 1959; over the years, she encountered Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland, and the gallerist André Emmerich, who began to show her work in 1963. A New England blue blood who died at the age of eighty-three in 2004, Truitt is best known for her fusion of strong, boxy forms with a cultivated sense of color—Donald Judd meets Brice Marden, as it were. Yet the various associations made with Truitt’s work were anathema to the purely retinal or tactile absolutism of abstraction; she was “condescendingly gendered,” as James Meyer, the ranking historian of Minimalism, noted in these pages in 2002.

Perhaps to quell such uncertainties, the artist’s painted sculptures are forsworn in this exhibition, which instead features twenty-seven lovely though problematic drawings. The survey is accompanied by a catalogue by Brenda Richardson, a former deputy director and chief curator of the Baltimore Museum of Art, who attempts to right the near wrong of the present-day assessment of Truitt’s anomalous achievement (a task also undertaken, on a much larger scale, by Kristen Hileman in her 2009 retrospective of Truitt’s work at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC). Truitt’s drawings—mostly acrylic on paper or acrylic and graphite on paper—are notable not so much for being like one another, but for being like so many others as well. This problem of vexing similarity is amplified by Truitt’s Color Field and Minimalist mix, however much she would have cared to have her work float free of period stylistics. In short, Truitt’s drawings are too “nomalous.”

From the very outset, the black rectangle of 28 Dec ’62 summons forth associations with Ellsworth Kelly and, proleptically, Marden. (Richardson notes that the women painters of Truitt’s generation—Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan—provide scant parallel, while members of the post-Minimalist generation do.) And when we encounter the drawing Untitled, 1986, its yellow and yellow-gold sliced shapes are all but Barnett Newman–like. Indeed, Newman, in his matter-of-factness, in his color that is seemingly both weight and place, is, by Truitt’s own admission, her grand model—she does not command the art-historical stage the way Newman does, even if her sense of color is far more sophisticated than his ever was. Summer ’97 No. 6, 1997, is, with its large, hot-red rectangle weighing down upon a cosmetic red lower margin, another pertinent example.

Still, certain tropes are Truitt’s through and through. For example, her colored fields often seem to have weight that squeezes the thin horizontal margins against the very bottom edge of the sheet of paper, a compositional device that not only recalls the obduracy of her horizontal sculptures but also is a rare instance of a palpable connection between her painted sculptures and her drawing. Perhaps in a similar vein, certain layers of her colors typically look as if they have been pressed in and down upon the sheet with a roller. In Shear No. 5, 1976, for example, a maroon rectangle is pressed down hard upon a royal-blue field, of which only the margin remains. Another Truitt characteristic is the delineation of shape through the use of tape that, when pulled free of the paper’s surface, leaves a minute filigree, a kind of microscopic “blur” at the edge that, at times, echoes the deckle edges of the broad sheets of paper on which she worked.

But the associations with the work of other artists remain obtrusive. A drawing such as 15 Nov 65, with its flattened-out, ribbonlike form, brings Richard Tuttle to mind. And the drawings that are mostly graphite on paper are almost too Agnes Martin–like (not to mention Robert Ryman–like) for comfort. I do not mean by this that Truitt is copying. Rather, as with the many artists at work within the Minimalist–Color Field continuum, such resemblances arise from the same pool of influences into which they all dip. The purity and modesty of Truitt’s work is up against a hammering, overriding period model. Granting its dominance, how could we not recall the work of other artists?

Robert Pincus-Witten