The Real Anne Truitt
Anne Truitt’s recently closed exhibition at Matthew Marks has provided the New York art scene with a chance to reassess her work, as her Hirshhorn retrospective did not travel. While some were less than thrilled with this use of Chelsea’s precious allotment of gallery space, it did allow those of us in the “art capital” (of the country or of the planet, depending on your point of view) to assess the physical objects in a clean, well lit space, such as Marks’ immaculate space at West 22nd Street. While isolated works in the perimeter galleries allowed one to chart some of the changes in Truitt’s career, the central grouping of her iconic column sculptures were the star. Settled under skylights, the installation gave each individual work enough space while also allowing the group to be taken in as a whole. Moving through the works allowed one to catch shifting relationships between facets of the same sculpture as well as the next work in the visual field, be it straight away or on the periphery.
This grouping reinforced the traditional phenomenological reading of Truitt’s work that has been at the center of discussions of Minimalist art since Michael Fried. This reading is partly out of place in regard to Truitt, at least according to her own intentions. She arrived at a minimal language at the same time as Judd, Morris, and Flavin, but after experimenting with similar production techniques (her 1965 exhibit at Andre Emmerich featured works fabricated in metal), she stepped back to embrace a handmade practice that was out of step with the works of her contemporaries despite a shared aesthetic language. The texts supplied by the gallery, culled from the artist’s own writings, point to her interest in moving painting off the wall. Her surfaces, inflected with subtle traces of brushwork sitting atop solid wood, lie between Barnett Newman’s brushed fields and the evenly applied stains of her friends Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis. While she was interested in the emotional impact of pure color that could interact with viewer in his or her own space, the intimate nature of her personal subject matter aimed for a more emotional engagement than the matter-of-fact phenomenology of Judd, but one that was less grand and universal than that espoused by Newman. The Marks installation showed her formal successes off to great effect, but at the expense of her more idiosyncratic and narrative sources.
This approach makes much more sense today, as any such personal coding of universal elements can feel quaint, whereas a literal reading places her within a more accepted canonical framework; it is much easier to bring her into the discussion rather than pulling history out to her. This reading continues from the Hirshhorn show as Kristen Hileman’s lecture “Arriving at an Art Historical Anne Truitt” argued for her place alongside Judd as a founder of Minimalism. Leaving aside the accusations of sexism (although it is interesting how such marginalization never has a direct source, but “just happens”), it feels like a mistake to remove the personal reading from her work. Her intentions are what set the unique constraints of her art, and if we are to accept a larger vision of Minimalism and its influence, then we will be better served to understand what she ultimately aimed to construct with it.