Sylvia Plimack Mangold and Robert Ryman have been colleagues for 40+ years and Ryman has collected a number of Plimack Mangold’s works. While to some, their interests are divergent, with close investigation, it is clear to see how both artists share interest in not only the process of focused exploration, but also the details within the works, such as representation, layers, surface and variation.
This exhibition is the first time these two artists have been paired directly. For Ryman, the exhibition includes a selection of his editioned works from 1972 all the way to his most recent ones from 2010. For Plimack Mangold, the exhibition focuses on 1974 – 1984, a ten year period where she most overtly explored expectation, perception, representation and surface.
Robert Ryman’s works utilize different printing techniques (from screenprint to etching to aquatint). Most often, the works expose the subtle balance between formal decisions made by the artist and the inherent properties of the materials and techniques used. In the 1990-1991 suite of five works, one sheet has straight etching. One sheet has etching and aquatint. Another sheet has two aquatinted plates. These three are all on the same machine-made paper with cut edges. Two other sheets are on handmade paper with deckled edges and are single plate aquatints. These two last ones are on different colored papers. All five engage the format of the square and are printed with only Titanium white etching ink. This suite lays bare the essence of Ryman’s work. The artist, by limiting his palette, is able to focus on the materials, processes and supports of art-making. The breadth of elegant and creative solutions are part of what makes Ryman so well respected.
Sylvia Plimack Mangold’s work from the 1970’s and early 1980’s focused on perception through the use of ‘vehicles’ such as floors and mirrors, rulers and tape. One of the earliest work in this exhibition, Flexible and Stainless, showcases an image of a wood floor seen in raking perspective. Overlayed on the floor are two 12″ rulers. The horizontal ruler’s bottom edge is, in fact, 12″ long. However, the vertical ruler, while illustrating a 12″ ruler, is rendered in the raking perspective and thus is less than 12″. By using figurative images, the artist is able to illustrate two types of space simultaneously – the illustrative and the actual.
As Plimack Mangold’s work progressed, this sense of duality became even more focused on the process of image and art creation. A 1978 drawing, made on sketch paper, displays a grid within which the artist has drawn a landscape of sorts. However, there is a section of this landscape that has been taped off, so as to focus one’s attention to that specific area. However, it’s not tape that’s being used, but a lack of gridded lines in the negative form of tape. Not only is Plimack Mangold focusing one’s attention on how one focuses attention, but she engages the issues of the methodical (a grid and not drawing gridded lines ahead of time, as the area to be focused on was already known), balanced with the aesthetics of the casual (seemingly casual, quick marks along with the subject matter of a landscape).
These two artists explore so many areas of attention, control, creation and representation. One hopes that this exhibition provides a welcome lense with which to explore further each artist’s works.