Anne Truitt at Danese Gallery

Emmerich 1980

Anne Truitt’s studio, 1980; courtesy

* * *

The notion that an artist should be a cultural rabble-rouser has its basis in the avant garde of the early twentieth century. At that time, Modernism was a radical phenomenon and a force to be reckoned with. Currently, however, the phrase “avant garde” carries with it an antiquated air. Today’s outrage is tonight’s MTV. Consequently, what is notable about so much contemporary art is not its transgressive character, but its not-so-quiet desperation.

Neither transgressive or desperate, Anne Truitt’s sculpture is, in fact, very beautiful. Her work refutes the myth that art has to shock or bully in order to engage the viewer. Instead, it does so with a modest grace. Truitt’s sculptures are squared columns constructed from wood, which are overlaid with acrylic paint. They are punctuated by vertical stripes or horizontal bands that run around the perimeter of the works. Most of the nine pieces at Danese are a little taller than human size and pitched about a quarter inch off the floor. This “lift” gives each piece an understated weightlessness that play against its architectural solidity.

Truitt’s work occupies a curious ground between painting and sculpture. As tangible objects, the pieces serve basically as armatures on which paint is applied. Innumerable layers of thinned acrylic are brushed onto the columns until their surfaces are simultaneously dense and translucent. Yet rarely does it seem that these plinths are merely objects that have been merely painted. Ultimately, they are less sculpture than bodies of color–and what color! Australian Solstice (1983) has a blue so deep it can only be described as bottomless. The orange that emanates from Tribute (1997) is as luxurious as its support is spartan. For Truitt, color is a vehicle through which experience, memory, place and even weather are evoked and crystallized. For an art of such
severity, it is remarkably rich.

The unequivocal geometry of Truitt’s art recalls that of Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt and Elsworth Kelly. Comparisons to such heavyweights are, more often than not, so much ballyhoo and should make artists (and their critics) leery. But Truitt has nothing to worry about. At the risk of turning art history into a horse race, I would venture that she’s better than any of them. To claim as much is not to judge the artist by the criteria of a politicized art world. It’s based on the quality of the work. The unassuming elan of Truitt’s sculptures is one reason to feel good about art at the end of the twentieth century.

© 1998 Mario Naves

A version of this article was originally published in the June 1998 edition of New Art Examiner.

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