Judy Ledgerwood

Born Brazil, Indiana, 1959
Lives and works in Chicago, IL


EDUCATION

1984    MFA The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, IL
1982    BFA, the Art Academy of Cincinnati, OH


SOLO EXHIBITIONS

2014    Chromatic Patterns for the Graham Foundation, Graham Foundation, Chicago, IL

2013    Judy Ledgerwood: Chromatic Patterns, Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
           Judy Ledgerwood: Love, Power, Color, Rhona Hoffman, Chicago, IL
           Fields and Flowers, Barbara Davis Gallery, Houston, TX

2012    Hello Again, Häusler Contemporary, Zurich, Switzerland

2011    April Showers, Tracy Williams Ltd., New York, NY
           Chromatic Patterns for Chicago and Blob Paintings, Rhona Hoffman, Chicago, IL

2010    Thinking of You, Häusler Contemporary, Munich, Germany
           Chromophilia, 1301PE, Los Angeles, CA

2008    Another Day, Häusler Contemporary, Zurich, Switzerland
           Judy Ledgerwood, 1301PE, Los Angeles, CA

2007    Mixology, Illinois State University Gallery, Normal, IL
           Hard Jam, Tracy Williams Ltd., New York, NY

2005    Get Up, Häusler Contemporary, Munich, Germany
           Spring Fever, Tracy Williams Ltd., New York, NY

2004    Ugly Beauty, 1301PE, Los Angeles, CA

2003    Friends and Enemies, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, IL

2002    Sunny Days, 1301PE, Los Angeles, CA
           TEST PATTERN, 111 Minnea Street, San Francisco, CA (cat.)

2001    Judy Ledgerwood, Concept Art, Pittsburgh, PA

2000    Basement Love, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, IL
           Judy Ledgerwood, Feigen Contemporary, New York, NY (cat.)

1999    Cold Days, The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, IL (cat.)

1997    Judy Ledgerwood, Feigen Contemporary, New York, NY

1996    Judy Ledgerwood, Richard L. Feigen & Co., New York, NY
           Judy Ledgerwood, Feigen, Inc., Chicago, IL   
           Judy Ledgerwood, Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica, CA

1993    Judy Ledgerwood, Feigen, Inc., Chicago, IL
           Judy Ledgerwood, Germans Van Eck Gallery, New York, NY

1992    Judy Ledgerwood, Hannes Art Center Glass Gallery, Chapel Hill, NC
           Judy Ledgerwood, Robbin Lockett Gallery, Chicago, IL

1991    Judy Ledgerwood, Richard Green Gallery, Santa Monica, CA

1990    Judy Ledgerwood, Robbin Lockett Gallery, Chicago, IL

1989    Judy Ledgerwood, Scott Hanson Gallery, New York, NY
           Judy Ledgerwood, Robbin Lockett Gallery, Chicago, IL


GROUP EXHIBITIONS

2012    Spectral Landscapes (with Viewing Stations), Gallery 400, Chicago, IL
            Painters Panting, Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, Atlanta, GA

2010    Tracy Williams Ltd., New York, NY
           On PTG, Western Exhibitions, Chicago, IL
           Stone Collection: Selections from the Donna and Howard Stone Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago, IL
           Daniel Hesidence Curates, Tracy Williams Gallery, New York, NY
           Musée Appartement: Collectiors Choice: From private to public to private, Hausler Contemporary, Zurich, Swtizerland

2009   On Painting, Western Exhibitions, Chicago, IL
           Smart Museum, Joan and Robert Gallery for Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
           Constellations: Paintings from the MCA Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
           Pop, Sizzle, Hum, Tony Wight Gallery, Chicago, IL
           Mind the Step, 1301PE, Los Angeles, CA

2008    Color Climax, curated by Joe Fyfe, James Graham & Sons, New York, NY
           Temperamente auf Papier, Husler Contemporary, Zurich, Switzerland
           Paper Love, Devening Project and Editions, Chicago, IL

2007    Commemorating 30 Years 1976-2007 Part Three, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, IL
           Museum as Muse, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
           82nd Exhibition of Artist Members, The Arts Club of Chicago, IL
           Thinking in Color, organized by Judy Ledgerwood, Lemberg Gallery, Ferndale, MI
           Migration Platform, curated by Sue Spaid, University of Cincinnati, School of Art Gallery, OH

2006    Ragged, selected by Josh Blackwell, Kate Macgarry, London, UK
           Figures in the Field: Figurative Sculpture and Abstract Painting from Chicago Collections, Museum of Contemporary Art,
           Chicago, IL
           Take Over, The Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL
           I Believe, Hudson Franklin Gallery, New York, NY

2005    Centrally Located, The Chicago Cultural Center, IL
           Traces Everywhere, Tracy Williams Ltd., New York, NY

2004    Cindy Bernard, Richard Dupont, Judy Ledgerwood, Tracy Williams Ltd., New York, NY
           Atmosphere, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
           The Center is Anywhere, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
           Chroma, Lemberg Gallery, Ferndale, MI
           The LA Years, Part I: February 28-April3, 2004, Christopher Grimes Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
           Judy Ledgerwood, Julie Mangold, Sol Le Witt, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, IL

2003    Riverhouse Publications, van Straaten Gallery, Chicago, IL
           New Acquisitions: Works on Paper, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
           Selections from the Permanent Collection, Milwaukee Art Museum, WI
           Inaugural Exhibition, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL     
           Jorge Pardo, Judy Ledgerwood, 1301 PE, Los Angeles, CA
           Flora: The Beauty of Botanicals in Art, Rockford Art Museum, Rockford, IL

2002    People See Paintings: Photography and Painting from the MCA Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL (cat.)
           Life Death Love Hate Pleasure Pain, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL (cat.)

2001    College Proofs: The Riverhouse Editions Collection at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University,
           Evanston, IL
           Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, IL
           Stuffed, 1301 PE, Los Angeles, CA
           Serendipity, Thomas McCormick Gallery, Chicago, IL
           White Light, University Galleries, Illinois State University, Normal, IL. Traveled to 1926 Exhibition Studies Space, Chicago, IL
           and John Herron Gallery of Art, Indianapolis, IN
           Search for Love, Gallery 312, Chicago, IL
           Nascar Pace Car Proposals, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
           New Works, Feigen Contemporary, New York, NY
           TEST PATTERN,  Art Basel Miami, FL (cat.)

2000    MAXIMAL MINIMAL, Feigen Contemporary, New York, NY
           Glimmer, Gahlbert Gallery, College of Dupage, Glen Ellyn, IL
           The Circle Show, Bonafide, Chicago, IL
           Art and Music, TIAA/CREF Gallery, New York, NY
           Out Of Line: Drawings By Illinois Artists, Chicago Cultural Center, IL

1999    Works on Paper: a Riverhouse Retrospective, Eleanoe Bliss Center for the Arts, Steamboat Springs, CA
           Post-hypnotic, University Galleries, Illinois State University, Normal, IL
           Exploiting the Abstract, Feigen Contemporary, New York, NY
           New Works, Feigen, Inc., Chicago

1995    Chicago Abstract Painters, Evanston art Center, Evanston, IL
           25 Americans: Painting in the 90's, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI
           Natural Abstraction, Carlson Tower Gallery, North Park College, Chicago, IL

1994    Regional Biennial, Ft. Wayne Museum of Art, Ft. Wayne, IN
           Nature, Revolution: A Gallery Project, Ferndale, MI
           Changing Views, Feigen, Inc., Chicago, IL

1993    Feigen, Inc., Chicago, IL
           A Grand Tour, The Swiss Institute, New York, NY
           Celestial, Gallery in the Champion Lobby, Champion International Corp., Stamford, CT
           Eight Painters: Abstraction in the 90's, Carl Solway, Cincinnati, OH

1992    Material Dreams, Ackland Art Museum, Chapel Hill, NC
           Why Paint?, The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, IL (cat.)
           Selective Vision: Contemporary Landscape Painting, Transamerican Pyramid Lobby  Gallery, San Francisco, CA (cat.)
           From American's Studio: Drawing New Conclusions, Betty Rymer Gallery, The School of the Art Institute, Chicago, IL

1991    New Acquisitions: The MCA Collects, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
           The Big Picture/Heroic Gestures: Recent Abstract Painting, Palm Beach Community College Museum of Art, Lake Worth, FL
           (cat.)   

1990    Harmony and Discord: American Landscape Today, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA (cat.)
           Drawings, Paula Allen Gallery, New York, NY
           Nature, Gallery 400, University of Illinois at Chicago, IL
           Investigations, Morning Dance & Arts Center, Chicago, IL

1989    Art on Paper 1989, Weatherspoon Art Gallery, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, NC
           Small-Scale Work, Scott Hanson Gallery, New York, NY
           The Aesthetics of Black, Gallery Vienna Annex, Chicago, IL
           Robbin Lockett Gallery, Chicago, IL

1988    Latitudes, Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, CA (cat.)
           Drawings, Robbin Lockett Gallery, Chicago, IL
           Artists See Nature, College of DuPage Arts Center, Glen Elyn, IL
           Metaphor and Atmosphere, Gallery of Contemporary Art, St. Louis, MO
           Individuals II, Compass Rose Gallery, Chicago, IL
           Feature, Chicago, IL
           Chidlaw Gallery, The Art Academy of Cincinnati, OH

1987    Masks, Klein Gallery, Chicago, IL
           The Non-Spiritual in Art/Abstract Painting 1985-????, 341 W. Superior Street, Chicago, IL  (cat.)
           Double Readings, Randolph Street Gallery, Chicago, IL
 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

2012   "Judy Ledgerwood." Artcollector 2012: cover.

2011   Smith, Roberta. "Judy Ledgerwood: April Showers." The New York Times 24 June 2011: C29.
           Waxman, Lory. "Blobs and spice part of rich tapestry." Chicago Tribune 21 January 2011: 4C.
           Yau, John. "Judy Legerwood, April Showers." The Brooklyn Rail June 2011.
 
2010    Chad, Ed. "Judy Ledgerwood 1301PE." I call it ORANGES blog 22 April 2010.
           Colaizzi, Vittorio. "The Decorative Unconscious: Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Judy Ledgerwood." Essay
           presented at the Southeastern Conference of Art Colleges and Mid-American College Art Association Conference,
           Richmond, VA October 2010.
           Hausler, Christa and Wolfgang Hausler, eds. Judy Ledgerwood. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2010.
           Meyers, Terry R. "Judy Ledgerwood Cromophilia." ArtReview issue 42 May 2010: 125.
 
2009   Ghez, Susanne. Interview with Artist Judy Ledgerwood. Britannica blog 2009.
           Lund, Karsten. "Pop Sizzle Hum & Single Channels." Flavorpill 2009.
           Waxman, Lori. "Summer beckons, so do group shows." Chicago Tribune 3 July 2009.
           Weber, Candice. "Pop Sizzle Hum & Single Channels." Time Out Chicago Issue 227 2-8 Jul 2009.
 
2007    Chambers, Christopher. "Judy Ledgerwood." Flash Art March-April 2007.
 
2005   Church, Amanda. "Traces Everywhere." Art on Paper March-April 2005.
           Finch, Charlie. "Against Interpretation." Artnet.com 17 May 2005.
           Johnson, Ken. "The Listings: Judy Ledgerwood: Spring Fever." The New York Times 27 May 2005: E23.
           Ribas, Joao. "Traces Everywhere." ArtReview vol. LVI April 2005: 105.
 
2003   Dennis, Suzanne. "A Feast for the Eyes." The South China Morning Post 28 December 2003: 6.
           Snodgrass, Susan. "Judy Ledgerwood at Rhona Hoffman." Art in America vol. 92 issue 1 January 2004: 110.
 
2001   Grabner, Michelle. "Serendipity." New Art Examiner November-December 2001: 84.
 
2000    Artner, Alan. "It taken 15 years, but exhibit is top drawers." Chicago Tribune 4 May 2000: sec 5.
           Hawkins, Margaret. "Drawings On Display." Chicago Sun-Times 3 May 2000: 52.
           Horodner, Stuart. "Flat mates." Surface issue 24 2000: 72-73.
           "Judy Ledgerwood/Jeremy Blake." The New Yorker 17 April 2000: 20.
           "Out Of Line & post-hypnotic" New City 15 June 2000: 14.
           Purcell, Greg. "Reviews: The Circle Show." New Art Examiner April 2000: 48.

           Schleifer, Kristen B. "Home Is Where The Art Is." Art On Paper vol. 4 no. 3 January-February 2000: 23.
 
1999    Artner, Alan.  "Judy Ledgerwood's new works interact with winter light." Chicago Tribune 5 February 1999: sec. 7, 53.
           Bradley, Jeff. "From Patience to Fascination, Striking etchings and prints in Riverhouse   Retrospective." The Denver Post
           11 October 1999: 26E.
           Wilk, Deborah. "Renaissance Society to Benefit from designer crossover." Chicago Tribune  17 October 1999: sec. 15, 3.
           Wilk, Deborah. "Chicago Reviews: Judy Ledgerwood." New Art Examiner April 1999: 14-15.
           Yood, James. "POST-HYPNOTIC." Artforum April 1999: 120.
 
1998    Adcock, Craig. COLD DAYS. Chicago: The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, 1998.
           Clarkson, David. "Group Shows: Exploiting the Abstract." Flash Art November-December 1998: 66.
           Cotter, Holland. "A Tour Through Chelsea, The New Center Of Gravity." The New York Times 15 May 1998.
           "Exploting the Abstract." Flash Art Summer 1998: 63.
           Grabner, Michelle. "Lake Breeze: Referential Abstraction in Chicago." The New Art Examiner September 1998: 22-26.
           Huebner, Jeff. "Kimler'sComplaint." Reader vol. 27 no. 38 26 June 1998: 1-31.
           The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation 1997 Awards in Painting, Sculpture, Printmaking, and Craft Media, New York: The
           Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, 1998: 52-53.
           New York Contemporary Art Report vol. 1 issue 1 May 1998: 106-107.
           Walker, Hamza. "The Weeds of Winter." Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago Newsletter January 1998.
           Wilk, Deborah. "Reviews: Chicago." The New Art Examiner 1998: 44-45.
           Yood, James. "Collaborations 1998, Printworks Gallery." Artforum February 1998: 10.

1996     Artner, Alan G. "Bigger not Better." Chicago Tribune Sunday 30 June 1996: sec. 7, p. 12
           "Evanston exhibit of abstract works an evenhanded view." Chicago Tribune 3 February 1995: sec. 7, 48
           "The New MCA." Chicago Tribune 19 June 1996: sec. 7, 1.


1995    Bonesteel, Michael. "New Abstract Art Rules." Pioneer Press 25 January 1995.

1994    Carlton, William. "Art & Soul." News Sentinel 16 June 1994.

1993    Diehl, Carol. "Germans van Eck, New York: exhibit." Art News vol. 92 Summer 1993: 96.

1992    Artner, Alan G. "Art: Judy Ledgerwood." Chicago Tribune 17 January 1992: sec. 7, 6.

1989    Cyphers, Peggy. "Review: Judy Ledgerwood." Arts  vol. 64, no. 4 December 1989: 96.

1988    Bulka, Michael. "Individuals II." New Art Examiner vol. 15 no. 13 October 1988: 24

1987    Bonesteel, Michael. "New Abstract Art Rules," Art in America vol. 75 no. 12 December 1987: 138-47.


PUBLIC COLLECTIONS
 
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
The Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL
Milwaukee Museum of Art, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Chicago Public Library, Chicago, IL
American Embassy, San Salvador, El Salvador




Judy Ledgerwood

1301PE

 

There is a passage in my favorite art biography, Seeing is Forgetting The Name of the Thing on Sees, where Robert Irwin comes up against the mysterious world of what he calls "power" in painting. He experiences an odd moment of comparison, specifically a large James Brooks with "five major shapes in it" in contrast to a 'funny little Guston kind of scrumbly painting". Irwin was intimidated, infuriated, and humbled by that "goddamn Guston" - the Guston outwrestled and "just took over". "The Brooks fell into the background", Irwin said, "And I learned something about . . . some people call it 'the inner life of the painting', all that romantic stuff, and I guess a way of talking about it. But shapes on a painting are just shapes on a canvas unless they start acting on each other and really, in a sense, multiplying. A good painting has a gathering, interactive build-up to it".

 

I recently had a similar experience myself and it is bothering me. The story is basically this -- I've seen dozens of Judy Ledgerwood paintings in my life, mostly in Chicago where I lived for 3 years, and I finally felt one. I don't know what to do with it. I've talked to others about the works, and they don't seem to be impressed. One person said they were "trippy", another that they were "hallucinatory and very psychedelic". Others might call them 1970s wallpaper gone Bridget Riley or even that they are Phillip Taaffes that are less moody and open to having more fun. All of these descriptions say very little and compute references into unsatisfying solutions.

 

If I would add up my own list of bullet points, I would say a Ledgerwood is an interesting blend of optics (how your visual hardware works on a scientific level), the tension between decoration and abstraction (a jargony trap which I'll discuss in a minute), and handmade joy. They are bright patterns, undulating like vertical waves at times, folding in on themselves at others, wrapping, and sometimes suspending their movements like fabric swinging from a laundry line. The smallest ones, my favorite being Tangarine sun and summer sea, 2010 (seen above) invite the eye almost like a pulsing button, growing bright then dark, waiting to be pushed, needing to be pushed, though the reason is unclear.

 

People rarely speak of power in painting anymore. Actually, they speak this way quite a lot, just not on paper and definitely not in any major art magazine. Admittedly, these moments of surprise and power when it comes to painting are hard to articulate and most of the terms that were coined to speak of it have now been discounted or at least are out of fashion. A modernist of the Michael Fried variety, for instance, would have described this power as "presence", and will use phenomenology (sometimes Merleau-Ponty, sometimes Heidegger) to describe the moment -- how it aligns you to yourself (if this is possible), how you can be "in the painting", suspended in and immersed in looking. This unifies the physical with the mystery and result is an extraordinary thing - a painting that justifies itself through explicating, enacting, and centering physical reality.

 

Other commentators, like Kurt Varnedoe, former MoMA curator of painting and sculpture, would maybe talk about the moment historically, that the power is a confluence of a particular program and history of painting that comes together into a new and fascinating area of connections. The parsing and categorizing brain, caught up in new networks of meanings, will feel overwhelmed.

 

The majority of official writers in the arts, however, make a living by beating a confession out of this moment without actually talking about it directly. "Presence" has been replaced by circumstantial and situated meaning. For instance, when Fried thinks that he is feeling something, a critical person would then say that the feeling is an illusion produced by a web of situations that put him in that particular place and there is no way to verify or guarantee that the feeling will ever happen again - there is no criteria for determining when this feeling should happen. A Jackson Pollock might as well be a pan of scrambled eggs, to use Rosalind Krauss' informe track.

 

I suspect, and have been suspecting for sometime, that this way of thinking leads to another phenomenon, a way of talking around such moments that is endemic to much contemporary criticism. In order to explain away power, they arrange the painting in the middle of a variety of categories - between representation and abstraction, between design and formlessness (I did this earlier), between order and chaos, somewhere in the space between Pollock and tablecloths, between authenticity and simulation, between reality and illusion. The habit then is to show how the artist (insert name here) dodges these categories and presents something else, a viable hinterland in which you are not really standing but evaporating and being remade at each moment. Writers that take this track not only greatly exaggerate - for instance, does a Dash Snow collage of Saddam Hussein's testicles really dodge categories and show us the contingencies of the visual experience, or is it just the secretions of an overgrown idiot? In other words, we explain away actual experience in favor of rhetoric that fits.

 

Now the belief is, I think, that having something fall in-between categories of assessment animates the art and gives it life, gives you a new space to think about that is not straightforward but instead a complicated thing. This is absolutely true. However, to truly exist in that space is a difficult thing. To be honest, when I view a Ledgerwood, I don't feel in-between anything. The paintings simply are, and to move from that experience into rhetoric hurts both you and the painting in a way. I admit I am sympathetic to Fried's reading of presence, and I am also partial to the way Bob Irwin looked at Guston. It seems we must talk about the fact that the image is acting on us in a physical manner and that the reality of that encounter is not merely a matter of tricks or illusions, nor is it a simple assertion of our optical hardware. What did Irwin mean when he spoke about shapes and colors acting on each other, why does the Ledgerwood button pulse for me? If it were simply a matter of optics and a scientific matter, then what rises up in me to resist this reading? Why do I then feel downright humbled by the fact that the images achieve this optical effect by gestures of the brush, casual patterns of the craftsman and not the machine?

 

These are not easy questions to answer, but they certainly are the things I have to consider when confronting Judy Ledgerwood.


Ed Schad, I call it ORANGES


 

Judy Ledgerwood: Chromophilia

1301PE, Los Angeles

20 March - 24 April

 

Five years ago, Judy Ledgerwood stopped painting before reaching the edge of her canvases, leaving white borders of varying regularity that make her paintings (as she has remarked) less like objects and more like walls themselves: stable if not permanent architectural structures that enable even the most weighty application of paint to look momentary. In this her work brings to mind John Wesley, master of not only the white-bordered painting-as-a-box but also the blissful heaviness that surprisingly can be found in absolute lightness - as well as, of course, his killer colours. Weight, in Ledgerwood's work, is as psychological as it is material: various thicknesses of oil paint (or in one instance, encaustic), vibrant and deliberately clashing colours, and aggressively intricate patterns come together in eye-boggling combinations that simultaneously catch and release her imagery as if it were rays of light moving across a room. Ledgerwood has pulled out all the stops in this exhibition, taking advantage of the gallery's two floors to move us through the "story" of her work, a narrative supported by the formal mainstays of modernist abstraction yet driven by an unrelenting, even badass attitude.

 

Six of Ledgerwood's small paintings (each 38 x 38 x 5 cm) fill the first floor of the gallery. Most have been given walls of their own, and they need them, as no one is like any of the others, even though most of them use her now-signature four-part "floral" arrangement made from fat strokes of paint that circle back to where they started. Each of these expansive paintings has an irregularly painted overall shape that pushes the white edge of the canvas against the surrounding wall so that the painted image itself acts as if it were in motion: for example, Hot Sun Cool Shade (all works 2010) looks to be slipping off its right edge, while Tangerine Sun and Summer Sea sticks to its centre by holding onto a ring built from frostinglike deposits of candy-coloured paint.

 

An unapologetically over-the-top wall painting crowds the irregular space at the top of the stairs. Called One Voice (For Patti Smith), it surrounds a set of seven ceramic vessels that Ledgerwood recently produced in Mexico. After the intensifying contraction of the small paintings, the expansive collision of pattern and colour, as well as the domestic context of usevalue and visual pleasure, reinforces Ledgerwood's commitment to the diversity of both physical and pictorial space in her work. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the three large paintings that bring the exhibition to a riotous yet rigorous climax. Painted as if they were cloths draped on the wall-like white surface of their tall canvases, the patterns of Monster Love, Tequila Sunrise and Magenta in A Minor could almost be waving in the wind, if not for the drips of paint that re-attach them pictorially to their bottom edges. Their colour combinations simultaneously make everything vibrate in our eyes, demonstrating that when it comes to creating movement in stillness, Ledgerwood is at the top of her game.

 

Terry R. Myers, ArtReview



The Decorative Unconscious: Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Judy Ledgerwood
Vittorio Colaizzi
Presented at the joint Southeastern Conference of Art Colleges and Mid-American College Art Association Conference, Richmond, VA, October 2010


These observations stem from a brief passage in Barnett Newman's essay, "The Sublime is Now," in which he characterizes Gothic art as a manifestation of the desire to achieve exaltation through the destruction of form.  This passing claim is made in the context of a larger critique of Greek aesthetics, which, according to Newman, were misguided, because the "absolutisms of perfect creations"[1] reduces art to a handsome but trivial endeavor.  For our purposes it is immaterial whether Gothic sculptors and architects actually held this goal of visually demolishing structure under ornament.  Indeed Erwin Panovsky and Aloïs Riegl interpreted the Gothic as the manifestation of structural and intellectual principles, a strengthening through reiteration.[2]  The point is that Newman seems to have seen Gothic as an alternative to the "fetish of quality" that was ultimately meaningless and, we can presume, decorative.  Parenthetically, Newman's interpretation of Gothic art was not completely esoteric.  Gilles Deleuze saw in both Gothic ornament and the work of Francis Bacon of as a manifestation of forces that breaks free from the task of strict delineation.[3] 

Here, so far, are two definitions of the decorative: on the one hand, it is an art that placates, reinforcing established norms; on the other it is an art of such abundance that its incidents overshadow major structural identity.  These two senses of the decorative often go hand in hand, as when Lucy Lippard  dismissed Frank Stella's work of the late 60s, whose dazzling arcs and colors she saw as having abandoned critical self-reflection.[4]  But anything can become decorative, and thereby reinforce the cultural power of its displayers.  Benjamin Buchloh praised Daniel Buren for using what he called his "zero-degree" paintings to "reveal. . . the inherent tendency of [art to be] reduced to a cultural embellishment. . . ."[5]

Christine Mehring has noted how Blinky Palermo's painted environments would throw the viewer off balance, disrupting the certainty of the architecture, moreover suggesting a decorative tendency within all modernist painting.[6]  Palermo achieved a dissolution of form similar to that which Newman found in the Gothic, only with much more austere means.  This leads to a third sense of the decorative: the assimilation, through large, relatively homogenous passages, of an entire space, so that art consists, not of individual nodes calling for attention, but of a totality whose identity is tied up with a particular place.  Of course Giotto and Matisse form prime examples of this.  If one factors together these three modes of the decorative: the power-affirming, the form-dissolving, and the room-expanding, along with Newman's, Mark Rothko's, and Judy Ledgerwood's unanimous denial of the decorative, it becomes apparent that all three artists partake of a tension between stated position and effect that is integral to their work's production of meaning.  If decoration compromises or obscures the solidity of form, it can also disrupt calcified aesthetic and conceptual suppositions, gaining a critical and liberating potential. 

Newman found both antiquity and European abstraction to be lacking in sense of exaltation that he did find through the experience of place.  (As he titled a 1962 painting, Not there – here.) Commentators such as Richard Shiff and Yve-Alain Bois have stressed how Newman concretely placed the viewer, through diminishing the figure/ground relations in a lateral expanse before which the eye founders in its attempt to make conceptual sense, to measure and order.[7]  This is often pinpointed in his breakthrough painting Onement (1948), which dispenses with atmospheric depth in favor of a uniform surface.

Newman scoffed at the suggestion that his was a geometric and predetermined art.  In insisting that vertical lines and relatively unmodulated planes were not in fact geometric, he reveals his antipathy towards existing categories.  A case in point is his statement about his two triangular paintings, Chartres and Jericho, in which he echoes his earlier reference to Gothic ornamentation.  His goal was to "destroy [the triangle] as an object," to avoid the "trap" of "format as format."[8]  Accordingly he made the verticals contradict the enclosing diagonals of the triangle's outer shape, so that its knowability is challenged instead of reinforced.  This sense of expansion would seem to be a precursor to environmental art or happenings, but Newman also carefully pulled back from this idea,[9] remaining wary of any kind of stylistic absolute.  In loosening up the certainty of form, Newman loosens the habitual meanings ascribed to it, i.e., ruled lines equal predictability and dogmatism.  How this can be connected to decoration depends upon setting aside the idea of decorative as supplemental, and thinking of it, as in Palermo's wall paintings and Gothic ornamentation, as integral and operative.  Newman's concerted efforts to disintegrate parts into totality, so that, as he put it, there are "no beguiling aesthetics to scrutinize,"[10] is the operative decoration that is proposed here.

Rothko, for his part, relied upon an experience of dispersal – dispersal of pictorial incident within his canvases, which he famously termed the "pulveriz[ing of]. . . [t]he familiar identity of things. . ."[11] and subsequently the dispersal, not of the paintings themselves, but of their color and brooding presence across a relatively continuous surface.  For this he stipulated a crowded hang that is quite alien to contemporary installation practices that, above all, seek to let the works "breathe" (a common term in arranging and hanging works of art).   Rothko saw this tasteful "breathing room" precisely as decorative, while the envelopment of an entire space in color created the inescapability that he desired.  He explained: ". . .  I tend to crowd the show rather than making it spare.  By saturating the room with the feeling of the work, the walls are defeated. . ."[12]  Instead of a stately procession of accents that would flatter the venue's cultural authority, Rothko preferred a confrontational totality.

In a 1961 essay, Robert Goldwater credits Rothko with exploiting the tensions between decoration of a room and confrontation with a painting.[13]  Goldwater suggests that part of the power of the works comes from an ambiguity as to what exactly they are, and what they do.  This irresolution is another form of the "violence" that, according to Rothko, inhabited "every inch" of his paintings.[14]

Like Newman and Rothko, Judy Ledgerwood also rejects the decorative as "superficial,"  explaining instead, "My work uses color and shape repeated to create form that has a physical manifestation in the space that's more than decorative."[15]  

Cognizant of color's traditional relegation to the status of second-tier accompaniment to the supposedly more intellectual and masculine disegno, she credits her attraction to Color Field and American landscape painting to the fact that these areas were "outside the edge of respectability." Ledgerwood uses the formal language of the decorative in order to highlight and challenge the still existing boundaries of respectability, or as she puts it, to "change the discussion."[16]  

To this end, she subjects form to perpetual torsion and distension.  Crisscrossing lattices do not remain consistent in spacing or even in number; clashing zones of color undercut visual unity; and the compound circular motif, or flower-form, is never more than a brusque approximation of an idea, indicated but absent.  Regularized geometry did not spell transcendent order to the minimalists either, to whom it indicated a blind and obdurate indifference that seemed more truthful than any platonic law.   Nevertheless, their work has come to seem self-assured and authoritative.  This must be what Ledgerwood meant when she claimed one of her goals as "challenging the regularity of that grid."[17]  According to her, its mutation into something "uncomfortably aggressive" embodies the "hysteria" and "pressure" of contemporary life.  She even goes so far as to suggest that her work addresses the war in Iraq.  The artist Tony Tasset, who is married to Ledgerwood, reacted to this with: "Wow, that's gonna be a stretch for some people,"  thereby voicing (but not necessarily sharing) the assumption that topically critical art must picture its subject.  But Ledgerwood counters that "Form can have content."  This formal content is only legible against a field of inherited meanings, and part of her paintings' ambition is to nudge and reshape these presumed meanings.  She subsumes the grid's – "that grid's" – "predictability and stability and order" under what she calls "unlegislatable experiences."  Such unlegislatability takes place first on the terrain of bodily perception, through enveloping scale, coloristic discord, and the occasional use of gold paint, whose ever-changing reflection makes perception a participatory activity.  

This is surely what David Joselit, in a recent essay in October, called "merely situating [the spectator] in a phenomenological relationship of individual perception. . . ."[18] This phenomenological perception was once credited with the capacity to incite social and political agency,[19] but as James Meyer noted in Artforum in 2005, site specificity has become spectacular and gigantic, leaving little room for dissent, except in token gestures along preordained routes, i.e, do you sit, lie down, or remain standing in the Turbine Hall?[20]  Joselit opposes "mere phenomenology" with what he terms "transitive" painting; work that "'explicitly visualize[s]" the "networks of distribution and exhibition"[21] in all their political, economic, anecdotal and social details.

Joselit' paradigmatic example of "transitive" painting is Jutta Koether, whose installation Lux Interior (2009) contained a painting placed half on and half off of a hardwood floor, lit by disco-lights, thereby asserting and denaturalizing its place in a cultural economy.  It is no surprise that Koether's painting itself, a reworking of Poussin, bears marks that Joselit approvingly describes  as "depleted of expressive urgency."[22]  Such depletion remains a readymade sign that we are in the presence of work with interrogative, epistemological ambitions, as opposed to, you guessed it, decorative ones.

But Ledgerwood's "mere phenomenological field" is as acutely self-aware as any "transitive" painting's visualization of its network.  Because of the memories of disillusioned modernism dragged along by her bravura strokes miniaturized, and her heroic scale fractured, all put in the service of gnarly flowers and flickering colors, Ledgerwood's paintings present themselves as thoroughly networked; lacking any foundational essence, trafficking in inherited and perpetually and mediated languages, and forever co-opt-able as signs of cultural power.  And they do so without obligingly evacuating themselves in deference to the house style of affected modesty that is the academic code for criticality.

The pulled-in, seemingly draped perimeters of Giotto's Joy (2006), among many others, recall 1960s debates concerning the object-ness of painting.  By refusing the seamlessness of the painting/object/surface as produced by, among others, Jo Baer and Robert Mangold, Ledgerwood renders quaint the final urgent stages of painting's quest for an irreducible ontology.  At the same time, she renders equally quaint the absolutist reading of dispersed or expanded painting, i.e., the tendency to consider the jettisoning of conventions as somehow more advanced than their recombination, massage, and torture.

Ledgerwood has made a number of wall paintings that cannot help but seem somewhat tame in comparison with Buren and Palermo, but especially Katharina Grosse and Jessica Stockholder.  Her own justifications for these projects are familiar: "The color and shapes. . . actively engage the viewer and activate the architectural space."[23]  But what does it mean to "activate" space in the first decade of the twenty first century?

Surely Ledgerwood knows that "activation," the de-neutralization of the gallery space, and the fingering of its ideologies and conventions, has been a fait accompli for decades.  What the comparison with Grosse and Stockholder shows, however, is that linear one-upsmanship is quite beside the point.  The challenge and richness of their work comes from associations and cross-references more than from any reiteration of "expanded" painting.  Grosse in particular highlights the permanent institutional enframement of painting by seeming to transgress it, yet remaining within its given market parameters (this market includes academia).  Her rectangular negatives of removed boards are perhaps the most pointed allegories of this condition.

Ledgerwood, by painting on and off canvas, shows how painting's status as decorative trophy is no less present for dispensing with the literal frame.  And yet hers is anything but an art of capitulation.  She takes up a critical position precisely through the aesthetic, and makes strange our assumptions about how art can be active.  To borrow from Herbert Marcuse, "only as estrangement does art fulfill a cognitive function:  it communicates truth not communicable in any other language; it contradicts."[24]  Ledgerwood does not pretend to contradict institutional power as much as she contradicts codes of meaning – bright and colorful does not have to mean frivolous, while dour and reserved is not the only way to indicate a higher degree of seriousness.  Her draped edges starkly thematize the absence of an imperative in art or culture, figuratively pulling back the curtain to deny, not only the modernist illusion of universality, but also the tenacious urge to critical absolutes.  Through courting the decorative, she shows how form and meaning have become unmoored, settling only within temporary contexts.

 


[1] Barnett Newman, "The Sublime is Now," in John P. O'Neill, ed., Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews, (New York: Knopf, 1990): 171.

[2] See Erwin Panovsky, Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism, (New York: Meridian, 1976), and Aloïs Riegl, Historical Grammar of the Visual Arts, trans. Jacqueline E. Jung (New York: Zone Books, 2004), 274-78.

[3] Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, trans. Daniel W. Smith (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), 40-41.

[4] Lucy Lippard, "Excerpts," in Changing: Essays in Art Criticism (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1971), 198.

[5] Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, "The Museum and the Monument: Daniel Buren's Les Couleurs/Les Formes, in Neo-Avantgarde and Culture Industry: Essays on European and American Art from 1955 to 1975 (Cambridge: MIT, 2003), 134, 137

[6] Christine Mehring, "Decoration and Abstraction in Blinky Palermo's Wall Paintings," Grey Room no. 18 (Winter 2004):  85-6, 99-100.

[7] Richard Shiff, in Temkin, 82; Yve-Alain Bois, "Newman's Laterality," in Melissa Ho, ed., Reconsidering Barnett Newman, (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art; New Haven and London, Yale University Press), 35-6.

[8] Newman, "Chartres and Jericho," in Selected Writings, 194.

[9] Newman, "Interview with Dorothy Gees Seckler, in ibid., 250.

[10] Newman, "The 14 Stations of the Cross, 1958-1966," ARTNews v 65, no 3 (May 1966): 26-8, 57, reprinted in Jeremy Lewison, Looking at Barnett Newman (London: August Media Ltd, 2002), 123.

[11] Rothko, "The Romantics were Prompted," in Ross, 167-8.

[12] Rothko, "Letter to Katharine Kuh, September 25, 1954," in Miguel López-Remiro, ed., Writings on Art (New Haven: Yale, 2006), 99.

[13] Robert Goldwater, "Reflections on the Rothko Exhibition," from Mark Rothko: A Retrospective Exhibition. Paintings 1945-1960 (London: Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1961), 21-25, reprinted in Irving Sandler, Robert Rosenblum, et al., Mark Rothko: 1903 – 1970 (New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang; London: Tate Gallery, 1987, 1996): 35.

[14] Rothko to Clay Spohn, 1948, in James E. B. Breslin, Mark Rothko: A Biography (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1993), 358.

[15] "Judy Ledgerwood Interview: Conducted by Suzanne Ghez, The Renaissance Society, May 27, 2009," in Christa and Wolfgang Von Häusler, eds., Judy Ledgerwood (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2009), 120.

[16] Interview with Tony Tasset, Duncan MacKenzie and Richard Holland, Bad at Sports episode 115, November 11, 2007.

http://badatsports.com/2007/episode-115-judy-ledgerwood-with-guest-host-tony-tasset/

 

[17] All quotations in this paragraph are from Bad at Sports, ibid.

[18] David Joselit, "Painting Beside Itself," October 130 (Fall 2009): 132.

[19] Philip Vanderhyden made this observation in "Who's Afraid of Flowers?" in Judy Ledgerwood, Cantz, 139, as did James Meyer (below).

[20] James Meyer, "No More Scale,"  Artforum v. 42 no. 10 (Summer 2004): 220-228.

[21] Joselit, 125.

[22] Ibid., 127.

[23] Ledgerwood, unpublished manuscript, 2009, quoted in Roland Wäspe, "The Instant Joy of Painting," Judy Ledgerwood, Cantz, 12.

[24] Herbert Marcuse, The Aesthetic Dimension (Boston: Beacon Press, 1978), 10.


- Vittorio Colaizzi