Los Angeles

View of “Tina Girouard,” 2020.

View of “Tina Girouard,” 2020.

Tina Girouard

Anat Ebgi

On a visit to her native southwestern Louisiana around 1970, Tina Girouard inherited eight lengths of patterned 1940s silk from her mother-in-law, who had been given the material by a relative named Solomon Matlock. Rather than sew the material into wearable garments, Girouard decided to integrate the fabrics into her practice in New York City, where she had moved two years prior. Measuring three feet by twelve feet each, the Solomon’s Lot fabrics, as they came to be known, are saturated in pastel tones and festooned with variegated floral and botanical patterns. When juxtaposed, as Girouard noticed, the textiles create formal and conceptual harmonies in color, scale, and content. To further unify her installations made with the fabrics, Girouard produced linoleum and wallpaper with similarly vertiginous designs and built movable screens using some of the fabrics.

Those partitions served an alternate purpose at the artist-run institution 112 Greene Street, where they were used as theatrical props and stage dividers by artists and performers such as Suzanne Harris and Gordon Matta-Clark.Girouard was a founder of the space, as she was of the nearby Clocktower Gallery and the artist-run restaurant Food; soon after her move to New York, she had become instrumental in the burgeoning avant-garde SoHo scene. In recent years, those alternative venues have been celebrated—not without a pervasive and perhaps misplaced nostalgia—in commercial and museum exhibitions.

Girouard’s first solo outing in Los Angeles, “A Place That Has No Name: Early Works,” was also the last during her lifetime; the artist passed away in April, at the age of seventy-three. The show focused on pieces she had displayed at 112 Greene Street in the 1970s and offered a glimpse of the artist’s expansive practice, which includes painting, video, performance, and design. For the installation piece Air Space Stage, 1972, the artist draped four of the Solomon’s Lot materials, in canary-yellow, pastel-pink, and deep-green palettes, across the gallery’s ceiling to form a vibrant horizontal canopy in the white cube. Across the room, the floor-bound work Blue Hole, 1971, composed of four rectilinear pieces of linoleum arranged into a square, drew attention to the variations within and between the two works’ similar surface patterns while emphasizing their material distinctions in weight, positioning, and transparency. Toward the front of the gallery, Screen 4, ca. 1974–75, brought such distinctions further to the fore: Girouard had stitched together square sections of fabric in varying opacities to form a floating grid that hung vertically at eye level from the ceiling.

Taken together, these three works functioned as a provisional architecture that gave the sterile gallery the familiar air of a domicile—a feeling enhanced by nearby wall-bound assemblages of patterned wallpaper made during this same period in the ’70s. Such pieces situated Girouard within that decade’s Pattern and Decoration movement, with which she would become strongly associated via her inclusion in John Perreault’s 1977 exhibition “Pattern Painting” at New York’s P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center (now known as moma ps1) and in the more recent, wide-ranging survey of the movement at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, during which this exhibition was on view.

What distinguished “A Place That Has No Name” was its subtle demonstration of how Girouard synthesized her conceptual and material interests through iteration and collaboration. A series of oil stick–on-paper sketches in four-by-four-inch grids, each framed and matted, employed colorful lines, dots, and geometric arrangements laid atop one another, highlighting the rhythmic repetition and nuanced variation that unite Girouard’s work. For the film Test Patterns, 1973, looped on a nearby CRT monitor, the artist distended and tessellated images of flowers, oversaturated in hues ranging from indigo to hot pink, mimicking vibrant afterimages that linger on the retina.

Another monitor played documentation of Grand Passe Partout, a performance for the 1977 Paris Biennale, for which Girouard enlisted performers in a highly stylized dance that incorporated similar floral fabrics. Pairs of dancers clutched the short ends of lengths of fabric and glided across the courtyard of the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris in a ritualized pas de deux, eventually intersecting with the other duos to arrive at a maypole-like configuration. Echoing the visual effects of Test Patterns, the performers’ movements transposed into real space the elaborate, nuanced experiments with color, pattern, and technique that defined Girouard’s artistic practice for five decades.