Sean Scully: Change and Horizontals
The Drawing Center, New York
Sept 27 - Nov 3, 2013
Wilson here. With Fall hitting New York fast, Mr. Struggan asked me last week to begin checking the art calendars for openings to cover. The focus of this weeks art review is the new Sean Scully exhibition at The Drawing Center. The exhibition showcases some of Scully’s early works on paper from the 1970s. Scully has always stood on the periphery of my art historical knowledge, so I was excited to have an excuse to learn more about the artist and his work.
Scully, born in Dublin in 1945, is without a doubt one of the most accomplished Irish artists of the 20th century, his paintings having been acquired by museums around the world from the MoMA and National Gallery in the US to the Tate Modern in London. The Drawing Center’s exhibition focuses on two series of works on paper, executed in London in 1974 and soon after his arrival in New York in 1975. These 13 drawings are precisely composed in ink, acrylic, graphite, and masking tape and feature arrangements of Scully’s signature vertical and horizontal bands in plaid-like patterns. Accompanying these drawings are 60 framed pages of preparatory sketches from Scully’s notebooks and two large related paintings, also from 1975. 6 experimental works on paper, abstract text compositions made with a typewriter, are also on view.
Being somewhat familiar with Scully’s paintings from New York’s museum collections, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the exhibition; the rough, patched compositions of his later work, though impressive, have never really resonated with me. That being said, I was really taken by this early work. It displays a much more refined technical quality, focused simply on line and color, and illuminated for me considerably the direction he took as his work evolved later in his career.
The exhibition shines in taking the opportunity to narrate this particular period early in Scully’s career. The notebook pages, framed in ten sequences, dominate the back wall and offer the viewer a rarely seen glimpse into the artist’s process. The two paintings on view in the front of the gallery further contextualize the work, showing how the ideas worked out on paper progressed and matured into large-scale works on canvas. Unfortunately, curators Brett Littman and Joanna Kleinberg took their narrative focus a bit too far. Wall texts at every turn overworked the “early career biography” angle and had too much to say about work that is fully capable of speaking for itself. Additionally, the six typewriter sketches in the show, seemingly included only because they fell into the same time frame as the other work on view, just weren’t interesting. All in all though, Scully’s work is definitely worth seeing if you find yourself in SoHo and jonsing for some good mid-1970s abstract art.
Mr. Struggan sends his High Regards.