Curated by Katy Siegel and Christopher Wool, this presentation follows the exhibition's premiere at the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University. This is Reed’s first exhibition with the gallery.
“Painting Paintings (David Reed) 1975” reunites many canvases first shown in 1975 at Susan Caldwell Gallery, New York, which had a strong impact on Christopher Wool, then a young artist. More than forty years later, Reed’s paintings are complemented by a group exhibition of artists who were similarly exploring the relationship between process and image-making in painting, drawing, sculpture, and film.
When Reed came to New York from Southern California in the 1960s, he entered an art world that was skeptical about the ability of painting to be forward-looking. The young artist sympathized with the humanist, even metaphysical current in painters like his teachers Philip Guston and Milton Resnick, even as he admired the deadpan materiality of contemporaneous experiments in sculpture and film. Seeking to make paintings that were as direct as a poured steel sculpture, between 1974 and 1975 he prepared tall, vertical canvases, either as single panels or as many as five panels bolted together; the height of the canvases was determined by the door to his studio, the widths by the limit of his own reach. Working wet into wet, Reed then painted primarily black or red strokes from left to right, top to bottom, and sometimes diagonally, quickly filling the canvas.
These works, presented on the sixth floor of Gagosian's Madison Avenue location, describe particular moments, suggesting both the stillness of the resulting image and the suspended motion of their making. In #49 (1974) red strokes melt into one another on the left side, but become drier and more autonomous as they move to the right. In the center, splatters express a tremor frozen in time, as Reed removed the canvas from the wall while it was still wet, and dropped it. Inevitably, the pure immediacy of the moment vanishes, becoming an image of itself.
These fundamental questions of process and image in art inform the group exhibition presented on the fifth floor. Charcoal drawings by Joyce Pensato and a blackboard painting by Cy Twombly reveal layers of gesture and erasure; Andy Warhol’s Rorschach (1984) alludes to the hidden meaning behind abstraction; Pendulum (1976), a Super 8 film by James Nares, documents a sphere swinging perilously through a desolate Lower Manhattan street; Barry Le Va has installed his On Center Shatter-or-Shatterscatter (within the Series of Layers Pattern Acts) (1968–71), stacking panes of glass and smashing all but the top pane with a sledgehammer. Jack Whitten’s The Speedchaser (1975) was made with a specialized tool designed to spread paint across the entire surface of the canvas with a single gesture. The evidenced actions that run through these works all find parallels in Reed’s paintings, which evoke direct human activity, but also inevitably become images as well. The painting by Reed included in the group exhibition, #78-2 (1975), a slender canvas with a thick black vertical stroke on an off-white ground, is echoed, surprisingly, in Sigmar Polke’s Streifenbild IV (Stripe painting IV, 1968), with its four pastel strokes on a mauve ground.
The most recent works in the exhibition, Wool’s Untitled (1995), and Josh Smith’s Untitled (2004) and Untitled (2006), resonate with Reed’s 1975 paintings in specific ways. Wool’s painting is a picture created through physical and material action; the small Smith canvases were originally used as palettes for larger works, then repurposed as paintings themselves. For Wool, Reed’s approach to painting represents a cyclical continuation between generations. In bringing these works together, Siegel and Wool follow Reed’s example, challenging linear conceptions of artistic influence and encouraging viewers to trace alternative timelines in swinging arcs, dripping strokes, and reconfigured blots.
Artists exhibited include: David Reed, Barry Le Va, James Nares, Joyce Pensato, Sigmar Polke, Dieter Roth, Joel Shapiro, Josh Smith, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Jack Whitten, and Christopher Wool.
“Painting Paintings (David Reed) 1975” is accompanied by an in-depth, fully illustrated book, which expands on the themes of the exhibition, describing the paintings, and also reflecting on the complex relations between past and present. It includes texts by Richard Hell and Reed, as well as an extensive conversation between Siegel and Wool.