Malcolm Morley. Painting as Model

20 Jun 2024 – 2 Aug 2024

Regular hours

10:00 – 18:00
10:00 – 18:00
10:00 – 18:00
10:00 – 18:00
10:00 – 18:00

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Petzel Gallery

New York
New York, United States


Travel Information

  • DIRECTIONS: via subway take C or E train to 14th Street at 8th Avenue, walk 4 blocks uptown to 18th street and 2 Avenues west towards 10th Avenue. The gallery is between 10th and 9th Avenues.
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Petzel is pleased to present Painting as Model, an exhibition of multidisciplinary works by British-American artist Malcolm Morley (1931–2018). On view at the gallery’s Chelsea location at 520 W 25th Street from June 20 to August 2, 2024, the exhibition spans over 50 years of the artist’s oeuvre in 38 works created from 1959 to 2014. Organized in close partnership with the artist’s estate, Malcolm Morley: Painting as Model will be the first comprehensive survey of Morley’s work in over two decades.
Comprised of paintings and sculpture, Painting as Model features loans of seminal works from important institutions, prominent private collections, as well as the artist’s estate. The exhibition includes landmark paintings lent by the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., The Broad Art Museum in Los Angeles, and the CCS Hessel Museum of Art, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.
Important works on loan include Coronation and Beach Scene (1968) from the Hirshhorn, the only double image “super-realist” painting Morley ever made. Starting in the mid-60s, Morley created his “super-realist” works using a technique in which a small source image, such as a photograph, is overlaid with a grid and translated to a large canvas in segments, an uncommon practice among New York artists at the time. Stacking the Queen of the Netherlands’ horse-drawn carriage procession atop, yet among, lounging 60s beachgoers (both sampled from a Dutch travel brochure), Morley’s two-tiered association, inscribed in the language of leisure and advertising (but then, not yet in painting), would continue to unfurl in his later work.
Morley’s relationship with the grid, and indeed models, is further synthesized in the 1977 painting The Day of the Locust, on loan from the Museum of Modern Art. Titled after Nathanael West’s 1939 novel, whose hero wanted to paint The Burning of Los Angeles, Morley uses his first catastrophe painting, Los Angeles Yellow Pages (1971) as the base from which he superimposes numerous boats, helicopters, and figures, suspended, in a flurry of combustion and chaos, atop the Los Angeles skyline. As Jean-Claude Lebensztejn notes:
“The shifting of the viewer’s eyes in relation to the transparent grid between it and these complex motifs causes strange transformations but also evokes a modern tradition—that of the artist’s moving gaze, evident in Cubism, in Matisse’s work of the 1910s, and in de Kooning from whom Morley borrowed the key word slippage, lending the phenomenon a violent, discontinuous twist.” (1)
Morley’s scenes are active, his picture planes often dizzying, in flux. While his images sample photographs and print media, their references are not fixed, “but fluctuate between source and transformation, between one sign system and another. In place of wonder we are given uncertainty, but both states of feeling have to do with a mobile rather than a fixed subject matter.” (2)

Leaping off the grid and into the third dimension in the 90s and 2000s, Morley retained his hallucinatory, uncanny activation of the real, as his oeuvre edged toward abstraction. However, such delineations between the abstract and figurative are ultimately unstable when assigned to Morley’s exhaustive corpus. When asked about his later work, Morley noted: “figurative—the word itself pisses me off, as if anything is not a figure.” (3) Fiercely iconoclastic, Morley was always pushing back at the institution of painting, always maintaining a sense of grit. Through the 2010s, Morley continued to defy stylistic characterization. Aircraft on a Yellow Plane (2014), the latest work in the exhibition, demonstrates Morley’s release from the grid, the wings of aircraft brushing each other in a loose ensemble against an opaque plane.
Morley was committed to a ferocious formal rigor, a desire to ever-evolve: as he states in 2006, “each painting is the first painting I ever made.” (4) His painterly lexicon, transmutations of the vocabularies of advertising, capitalism, commodification, consumerism, corruption, modification, leisure, power, surveillance, transport, war, and weapons, continue to expand into gestural, focused fanfare for the retina, each painting containing many pictures.

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Malcolm Morley


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