(Building NW30) Lobby
In 1969, acknowledging the prevailing Minimalist interest in modular forms and industrial, non-art materials, (and inspired by a New York City subway sign) Jennifer Bartlett started using 12-inch-square steel plates coated with baked white enamel as the building blocks of her art.
For the next eight years she worked exclusively with the plates to create multipartite compositions ranging from relatively simple pairs to an extravagant 988-unit environmentally scaled installation summarizing her understanding of the entire history of late 19th- and 20th-century painting styles.
The systematic sequence of parts in the MIT painting recapitulates Bartlett’s own progression from an early geometric abstraction to a subsequent lush and painterly figuration. The separate plates are aligned in rows to construct an overall square. This rigid organization is pitted against the fluid expressivity of the paint handling. From the small, regularly gridded dots which compose the schematic house shape in the lower left, the eye moves along an upward diagonal to an intermediary stage of broad solid planes to the largest version, eroded and teeming with dancing brushstrokes. These strokes create a brilliant atmospheric flickering at the top, but suggest dark cavernous interiors at the lower right. Bartlett has called the house image “banal but poignant”. First introduced in her work in 1969, it became a major motif in 1975 and in 1976-1977 generated an extended series of paintings in which this rudimentary form (which has been likened to Monet’s serially viewed haystacks) is studied through a variety of painting styles, from Impressionism to Abstract Expressionism. The paintings in this series have been called portraits of people, for their titles all refer to specific addresses from the artist’s past, either her own earlier residences or those of significant friends.
*Note - this artwork is only accessible by guided tour.
Baked enamel, silkscreen, enamel on 64 steel plates
103 in. x 103 in. (261.62 cm x 261.62 cm)
Gift of the Albert & Vera List Family Collection