This modest selection of American paintings created between 1967 and 1976 is drawn from the collection of the David Winton Bell Gallery and organized around Salute, a new acquisition by Australian American artist Denise Green.
In the early 1960s the popularity of abstract expressionism gave way to a plurality of styles: among them post-painterly abstraction, identified by Clement Greenberg in a 1964 exhibition of the same name as deriving from abstract expressionism but “favor[ing] openness or clarity” rather than dense painterly surfaces; lyrical abstraction, celebrated in a 1971 exhibition curated by Larry Aldrich, who noted a “movement away from the geometric, hard-edge, and minimal, toward more lyrical, sensuous, romantic abstractions in colors which were softer and more vibrant;” color field painting; and minimalism. The paintings on view in the main lobby are representative of these movements and of the works that Denise Green would have encountered in mainstream galleries and museums when she arrived in New York in 1969.
Salute, dating to 1976, is notably different from these paintings in one important aspect: it includes a recognizable image. In this and other early paintings, Green introduced a vocabulary of simple forms that float within gestural (or alternately, flat) fields of vivid color. Here the emblematic, centrally placed image is a hand; other works depicted a table or vase or rabbit. Green’s paintings were included, along with nine other little-known artists, in the landmark exhibition New Image Painting in 1978. Mounted by the Whitney Museum of Art and curator by Richard Marshall the exhibition explored new ways of using recognizable, personalized imagery, as well as the resurgence of painting, which had been deemed dead by conceptualists. New Image Painting launched the careers of Nicholas Africano, Jennifer Bartlett, Neil Jenney, Susan Rothenberg, and Green. Looking back at the exhibition ten years later, Roberta Smith commended Marshall’s effort to identify and define “a specific aspect of the contemporary art scene,” while at the same time characterizing New Image as a transitional movement that was soon eclipsed by neo-expressionism, “whose combination of exuberant brushwork and provocative figures generated a glamorous amount of controversy, international attention and market support.”
For her part, Green was and is interested in the archetypal presence of an image, an interest she traces to Aboriginal painting, the work of Joseph Beuys, and a belief in the subjectivity of art. In her book Metonymy in Contemporary Art: A New Paradigm, 2005, she describes her work as “metonymic”— which she defines as associative, rather than specifically symbolic. In order to emphasis archetypal qualities, she disassociates her objects from identifiable surroundings and excludes all details, producing an image that is little more than a silhouette. Although Green’s style has evolved in the ensuing years, her interest in images as carriers of subjective meaning remains. A motif of vertical lines in a recent series of paintings, references both the picket fence of her childhood home in Australia and the World Trade Center.
Our thanks to Dr. Francis X. Clap of New York for his generous gift of Salute and nine additional works by Denise Green.