Robin Bruch, Untitled, 1983, acrylic and oil crayon on paper, 26 1/2 × 38 1/2".

Robin Bruch, Untitled, 1983, acrylic and oil crayon on paper, 26 1/2 × 38 1/2".

Robin Bruch

Mathew | Gallery | Berlin

Robin Bruch, Untitled, 1983, acrylic and oil crayon on paper, 26 1/2 × 38 1/2".

Objects in this exhibition may have been more complicated than they appeared. Robin Bruch’s prosaically titled exhibition “Major Works on Paper (1972–1985) II” looked like yet another painting show, but it actually raised quite a few questions of ethical-curatorial concern. Bruch, born in the United States in 1948, was introduced to the Berlin art crowd by Mathew three years ago, after the Berlin-based American artist Megan Francis Sullivan stumbled on her work by chance and brought her to the attention of the gallery, which staged the first chapter of what can now be seen as a two-part presentation, featuring twelve paintings, an artist’s book, and two ceramic plates, all from the 1970s and ’80s. In Bruch’s most recent show, the same book and ceramics returned along with nine paintings on paper.

Bruch’s life and oeuvre make her the prototypical female artist ripe for rediscovery. Although she exhibited her soft-edge abstract paintings widely starting in the ’70s, both in public institutions and in commercial galleries, it’s probably fair to call her an artist’s artist at best. In the mid-’80s, Bruch retreated from the New York art scene and moved upstate, where she began working in ceramics. She did not completely escape critical notice, however: David Reed, who wrote the show’s enthusiastic press text, obviously was and is a fan. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Bruch is a firm believer in nonrepresentational painting. Even the triangular and rectangular shapes in blues, greens, and radiant reds and pinks of Untitled, 1974, which could conceivably suggest a landscape complete with architectural elements, are a far cry both from the socially and politically motivated art that was also clamoring for attention at the time, and from performative and Conceptual approaches. An untitled work from 1979 features a dark-blue triangle pointing downward against a lavender-gray background, with brushstrokes clearly visible, while one from 1985 combines squares, semicircles, and a cloudlike shape with a greenish backdrop in a very David Reed–esque painting gesture.

That her practice is untouched by art-world trends; that she temporarily withdrew from the scene; and that she is woman overshadowed by her male contemporaries make Bruch the perfect candidate for the kind of recompense the contemporary art world increasingly has to offer the forgotten, elusive, or overlooked (female) artist. But this late recognition almost always comes at a price. In Bruch’s case, it is the disregard of her current work. The exhibition seemed to suggest that her oeuvre is packaged and completed. Yet the artist, possibly inspired by the growing interest in her work, returned to brush and easel just two or three years ago, creating canvases that were shown in New York in autumn 2013 and look quite in tune with their paper counterparts from some forty years past.

It is, of course, not uncommon that both art history and the market are indifferent to certain phases in an artist’s work. The gallery and the exhibition celebrated Bruch for her fearless, unique position at a time when her painting was not in fashion; but today, her geometrical compositions look very up-to-date. Initiatives to revise and expand art history, whether driven by a feminist agenda or simply a dislike of its seemingly progressive course, are welcome. But in undertaking them, we should try to do more than just exchange one set of blind spots for another.

Astrid Mania