I called some paintings perspectives but I'm not interested in perspective; I called some butterflies but I don't think they are butterflies; I call my sculptures masks but they are not masks. —Mark Grotjahn
Grotjahn's work is inseparable from its present moment, yet willing to make explicit art-historical reference. He borrows from Op art, Abstract Expressionism, Pop art, and Renaissance perspective, but achieves effects that reach forward and backward simultaneously. To occupy this precarious past-future visual position requires intense concentration, calculation, and control. As he painted his Butterfly paintings, Grotjahn sought an escape from precision: he began making masks out of the cardboard boxes lying around his studio—the discarded shells of art materials, gifts, and other packaging. He painted the boxes and attached toilet paper roll tubes that stuck out between cut-out eyes. The Masks, although originally started as a casual practice, quickly asserted themselves as a new armature for painting—an armature that would straddle time just as much as the two-dimensional geometric works.
The Masks unearth Cubism's methodical efforts to occupy, represent, and envelop space. Grotjahn started casting them in bronze in 2010—a material transformation that took the Masksaway from ephemerality towards sequential permanence. What was once an intimate exercise is thickened, stabilized, and filled with formal artistic authority. “Pink Cosco” is Grotjahn's first exhibition of sculpture in which every work is the same form. It takes its title from a box that contained a Cosco brand stepladder. While Grotjahn used the ladder to reach and paint surfaces, its box offered a new surface on which the practice of painting could be reconsidered.
The Masks in “Pink Cosco” are faces stretched tall. Despite their material, they maintain their identity as convertible containers, but offer no real entry. Lined up atop wooden pedestals, they stare down their long, phallic noses. Their color scheme is kept to pink or yellow only: a formulaic restriction that, like the Butterfly series, reveals the variations inherent to any repetition. The Masks stand proudly, their original vulnerability replaced by layers of paint thickly applied over polished bronze. Boldly signed and dated, the works unite Grotjahn's various styles and turn private practice into public display. This progression runs parallel to history itself: even without intention, each object and subject is inhabited by a history that it cannot shake off.
Mark Grotjahn was born in 1968 in Pasadena, CA. He received an MFA from the University of California, Berkeley, and a BFA from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He lives and works in Los Angeles. Grotjahn's work is included in museum collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Broad Art Museum, Santa Monica; SFMOMA, San Francisco; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Des Moines Art Center, Iowa; Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Rubell Family Collection, Miami; François Pinault Collection, Venice; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Tate Modern, London; De La Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space, Miami; Dakis Joannou Collection, Athens; and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.
Solo exhibitions include “Mark Grotjahn: Drawings,” Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2005); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2006); Kunstmuseum Thun, Switzerland (2007); Portland Art Museum, Oregon (2010); Aspen Museum of Art, Colorado (2012); “Mark Grotjahn: Sculpture,” Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas (2014); and “Circus, Circus,” Kunstverein Freiburg, Germany (2014). Major group exhibitions include Whitney Biennial 2006: “Day for Night,” New York; and the 54th Carnegie International, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2004).
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