Alan Uglow: Standards and Portraits

Large canvas edged and bisected with a uniform gray line, as well as 8 evenly spaced short lines, leans against a wall.

Alan Uglow, Standard #23 (Grey), 1998. Acrylic on cotton, 84 1/4 x 72 inches (214 x 182.9 cm). Courtesy the Estate of Alan Uglow and David Zwirner, New York/London.

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The MIT List Visual Arts Center presents Alan Uglow: Standards and Portraits an exhibition of the work of Alan Uglow (1941-2011). The exhibition is comprised of two of Uglow’s most important series, his Standard(s) paintings and Portrait(s) of a Standard, both centered on his decades-long investigation into the medium of painting.

Uglow’s work is marked by a keen sense of proportion, structure, form, and surface. Working in series that evolved gradually over decades, Uglow maintained an abiding focus on formal economy, using simple geometrical shapes to structure the surface of his canvases and emphasizing the materiality of painting rather than direct pictorial content. Perhaps his two best-known series, Standards and Portraits of a Standard reflect the artist’s commitment to exploring the formal and affective conditions of abstract painting.

Although seemingly reductive in form, Uglow’s Standards, each measuring seven by six feet, are executed with up to forty layers of paint. This slow and determined process creates delicate nuances of surface, the paintings subtly playing with light, reflection, and the viewer’s own presence in space. These perceptual distinctions, revealed by the meticulously textured, warmer or cooler surface of each canvas, make use of both precision and simplicity to produce a sense of pictorial space without traditional perspective or illusion. Uglow’s paintings also confront the problem of the edge, a motif running throughout the history of 20th century abstraction, by making the support—the literal frame of the painting—their organizing element. Installed on blocks and sited in precise relation to the wall and surrounding space, the Standards assert the physicality of the medium—a painting as both an object and an image—even as their surfaces draw the viewer in with their refinement of shape, texture, and ground.

Uglow’s Portraits of a Standard, photographic silkscreened prints on canvas, capture his Standard paintings at an oblique angle, making them recede into physical space. Furthering Uglow’s interest in repetition, difference, and objecthood, the Portraits are of identical dimension as the paintings and similarly displayed on blocks. While the structural elements of color and edge are blurred through the mechanical process of printing, the Portraits also suggest another edge, that between painting, photography, and sculpture.

About the Artist

Alan Uglow was born in Luton, England in 1941 and died in New York in 2011. He earned a degree in painting and printmaking from the Central School of Art in London in 1962. He participated in his first group show at Bykert Gallery in 1974 and in 1978 he made his solo debut in simultaneous shows at the galleries of Mary Boone and Susan Caldwell.

Work by Alan Uglow has been featured in a number of solo and group exhibitions worldwide. A solo show of Uglow’s work, curated by Bob Nickas, is on view at David Zwirner, New York through March 23, 2013. Uglow’s work was also shown in a 2012 group summer show, Standard Operating Procedures at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, organized by Piper Marshall. He was also exhibited in 2012 in the group show Stand still like the hummingbird at David Zwirner. In 2010, his work was the subject of two large exhibitions concurrently on view in Germany at the Museum Wiesbaden and the Museum Haus Esters in Krefeld. Other recent solo exhibitions include the CCNOA – Center for Contemporary Non-Objective Art, Brussels (2006) and the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague (2004). His first museum solo exhibition was held in 1992 at the Kölnischer Kunstverein in Cologne.

Uglow’s work is represented in private and public collections internationally, including the Cincinnati Art Museum; Gemeentemuseum, The Hague; High Museum, Atlanta; Le Consortium, Dijon, France; Musée des Beaux-Arts, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland; Museum Haus Esters, Krefeld, Germany; Museum Wiesbaden, Germany; National Gallery of Iceland, Reykjavik; Sammlung Goetz, Munich; Sammlung Lafrenz, Hamburg; Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.


Support for this exhibition has been generously provided by the Council for the Arts at MIT, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Office of the Associate Provost at MIT, the MIT List Visual Arts Center Advisory Committee, and the Friends of the List. Special thanks to the British Consulate of Boston.