Washington, DC

View of “Pat Steir,” 2020. From left: Eleven, 2018–19; Twelve, 2018–19; Thirteen, 2018–19; Fourteen, 2018–19.

View of “Pat Steir,” 2020. From left: Eleven, 2018–19; Twelve, 2018–19; Thirteen, 2018–19; Fourteen, 2018–19.

Pat Steir

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

For the past year and a half, a beautifully illustrated German book has been sitting like a totem on Pat Steir’s worktable. Werner Spillmann’s Farb-Systeme 1611–2007 (2009) details a wide range of color theories and color wheels invented over the centuries, from Isaac Newton’s scientific studies on light, to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s studies of color and mysticism, to Paul Klee’s and Le Corbusier’s experiments. (Only one woman’s efforts are included.) But Steir is not fluent in German. The inspiration she has taken from that silent oracle has been entirely visual: no theories, just colors, images, optical stimulations. Acting intuitively, not scientifically—with what Duchamp called “the precision of the random”—she has trusted her eyes and expertise in creating her own interpretation of optical relations, Color Wheel, 2018–19, a suite of thirty near-monochromes, each measuring nine by

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