February 27–April 7, 2007
Merrill Wagner’s art has always connected to nature: in her plein air paintings the connection is direct, while in her better-known steel, rock and wood constructions, it’s more oblique. Her current exhibition at Sundaram Tagore splits the difference with a collection of new representational constructions on painted steel that couple the rigor of her past semi-abstract work with the immediacy of a walk through the garden.
Several wall-mounted sculptural paintings bear close resemblance to her past work. “Ripple” (2006), with its skewed array of welded reddish panels, reads as a rather concrete piece of art. It feels indebted, superficially at least, to the utopian influences of Russian Constructivism, but its surface, mottled with semi-transparent rust-proof paint, is decidedly organic. Despite the composition of its industrial materials, the piece tips more toward Wagner’s carbon-based sources and natural leanings.
The focus of this hearty exhibition is a series of semi-abstract sculptures of flowering plants. Materially, they have the weight and color of her more abstract work, but their referential subject matter endows them with a different complexion. They are most successful when Wagner uses compositional strengths to exploit the uneasy balance engendered by an improper meeting of idealized nature and cut steel. “Pod” (2006) reaches back into the architectural and constructivist sources Wagner might have avoided in her earlier work. Its bare steel stem rises slightly left, cantilevered over its painted base. A sharp, triangular leaf looks as much like a counterweight as it does a depiction of a natural object. Elegant and balanced, both spatially and pictorially, it carefully treads the line between overt representation and geometric abstraction.
The largest and most striking of these flower pieces is “Fallen Over Flower” (2006). Here, the angle is more severe, with the heavy metal flower defying gravity to keep itself off the ground. Its blue geometric leaves read as painted steel even as the piece retains its identity as a doomed flower. As is often the case with Wagner, the raw, angular industrial quality of the steel is leveraged for its potential for poetry. A single steel ribbon peels away from the fractured stem and floats slightly from the wall. This subtle effect adds a lightness and individuality to the piece that might otherwise give in to the bluntness of its weighty geometry.
One surprising element of the show is a set of three rock sculptures along the concrete seam of the gallery floor. The stone piles are bisected by a chalk line that continues the groove covered by the rocks. These works are not meant to steal the show, but they inadvertently bring it full circle. They act as foils to the pictorial sculptures, bringing them, literally, down to earth and whispering of Wagner’s love of landscape, which has been more latent in previous work. This show is a walk through the garden that makes you think of Vladimir Tatlin while smelling roses.
Merrill WagnerBy Joan Waltemath
NOV 2022 | ArtSeen
One doesnt know, initially, how often Merrill Wagner painted these paintings and how often they painted her. The hallmark of a true artist is someone who meets the material and the idea to be embodied in it halfway, and in so doing allows the material to speak and renders its qualities visible.
Merrill WagnerBy Robert C. Morgan
OCT 2022 | ArtSeen
The remarkable coming together of painting and sculpture in the career of Merrill Wagner carries a steady and clear-cut certainty that reveals itself in an exhibition currently on view at the uptown Zwirner Gallery.
Helen Frankenthaler: Drawing within Nature: Paintings From The 1990sBy Robert C. Morgan
MARCH 2023 | ArtSeen
The exhibition of Helen Frankenthalers paintings from the early 1990s currently on view at Gagosian is a curious and provocative one. The shows title, Drawing within Nature, was a phrase once used by the artist to describe her work, which has been appropriated by the scholar Thomas Crow, who contributes an essay to the exhibition catalogue.
On-Site: Major Paintings by Rackstraw Downes & Stanley LewisBy Alfred Mac Adam
JUNE 2023 | ArtSeen
In a bygone age of college football, Doc Blanchard Mr. Inside, and Glenn Davis Mr. Outside made headlines for the West Point Military Academy team winning several championships with their backfield game, running the ball on the inside and carrying it on the outside. Theyve now been replaced by a couple of landscape painters: Stanley Lewis on the inside and Rackstraw Downes on the outside. Both are plein-air artists; together, they take the landscape tradition in a new direction. Unlike the Hudson River School painters, they are not consecrating a virginal New World landscape, nor are they following the lead of Corot, creating beautifully rendered but imaginary places. They do not seek the picturesque, or endeavor to subjugate wild nature to artistic will. These two find placesor perhaps the places find themin nature overtaken by human beings, devoid of the picturesque, and that no one, most certainly, would ever call virginal.