The Persistent Presence and Allure of the Black Color in Art

June 23, 2016

You can’t be wrong if you use black. The elegance and simplicity, along with the symbolic quality of this color, has inspired artists from across a wide range of disciplines for centuries. Be it fine art, applied art, and of course fashion, black color in art has followed us since the birth of time. This time, the focus and reflections concern the black color within abstraction and the new exhibition Blackness in Abstraction at Pace Gallery in New York, considers the use of black as a method, mode and material in the featured works by twenty-nine artists. The international and intergenerational group of artists and their works allow us a glimpse into the art history of black color and emphasize the long tradition of abstract art as well but also provide for us a glimpse into new trends of contemporary art, since over a third of the featured works are newly created.

black color art blue  light  paint  red  like make  pigments black  white  colors  use used  home  history black  blue  white  light  paint red black black
Left: Terry Adkins - Smoke Stack (Towering Steep), 2003 copper, aluminum and tar, 41.9 cm x 76.2 cm x 76.2 cm. Image Courtesy of The Estate of Terry Adkins and Salon 94, New York, Photograph by Jeff Elstone, © Estate of Terry Adkins / Right: Sol LeWitt -Wall Structure Black, 1962, oil on canvas and painted wood, 99.1 cm x 99.1 cm x 59.7 cm. Photograph by Ellen Page Wilson, © 2016 The LeWitt Estate / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

Black Color Art and Art History

The Russian painter and theorist Wassily Kandinsky interpreted the black color as ‘a totally dead silence… In music, it is represented by one of those profound and final pauses, after which any continuation of the melody seems the dawn of another world’. For Piet Mondrian, black and white were the only colors next to primary colors, he used for the creation of his non-representational art, which stood to convey the universal aesthetic language. The famous Black Square on White Ground by Kazimir Malevich, the monochrome paintings by Ad Reinhardt and his conceptual framework considering his black paintings as ‘pure abstract, non-objective, timeless, spaceless, changeless, relationless, disinterested’, along with the range of practices spanning Geometrical Abstraction, Minimalism and Conceptualism, the vast range of the black color in art is revisited and commented upon by the featured works in the exhibition.

black color art blue  light  paint  red  like make  pigments black  white  colors  use used  home  history black  blue  white  light  paint red black
Left: Glenn Ligon - Untitled, 2016, suite of 17 screen prints, 91.4 cm x 66 cm), each Edition of 5. Photograph by Farzad Owrang, © Glenn Ligon; Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, Regen Projects, Los Angeles, and Thomas Dane Gallery, London / Right: Wangechi Mutu Throw, 2016, site specific action painting, site-specific dimensions. Courtesy the artist, Photograph courtesy the artist, © Wangechi Mutu

The Works

The featured works in Blackness in Abstraction showcase a new kind of appropriation art, which uses not just the similar materials but is more interested in the re-using of the basic concepts of the past works. Such is the case with paintings by Ellen Gallagher that reference the famous black square by Malevich. The tracing of the evaluation of the black square is also visible in the mixed media works of Turiya Magadlela, bound fabric wall sculpture by Laura Lima, and in the photographs by Jonathas de Andrade, which reference the square from a historic indication to capitalism. The works created specifically for the exhibition, a new site-specific wall painting by Wangechi Mutu takes as its base a black pulp material made from magazine pages, while the new work of Adam Pendleton, draw on the tradition of absurdist poetry, referencing the famous avant-garde movement Dada. Along with much more works are the painted wood and wall sculptures of the early 1960’s by the famous Sol LeWitt that helped to shape the referenced conceptual framework of the exhibition.

black color art blue  light  paint  red  like make  pigments black  white  colors  use used  home  history black  blue  white  light  paint red black
Left: Koji Enokura - Figure No. 7, 1982, acrylic on cotton, 210.8 cm x 206.1 cm x 46 cm. Courtesy of the Estate and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo, Photograph courtesy Blum and Poe © Estate of Kōji Enokura / Right: Jack Whitten - Epsilon Series I, 1976, acrylic on canvas, 106.7 cm x 106.7 cm). Photograph courtesy Alexander Gray Associates, New York Courtesy the artist and Alexander Gray Associates New York, NY,  © 2016 Jack Whitten

Blackness in Abstraction at Pace Gallery in New York

Curated by Adrienne Edwards, the exhibition reflects on the persistent practice of the black color in art, with a particular emphasis on monochromes from 1940s to today but it also aims to look beyond the paintings and to explore the ways the black abstract works exist in other media, including sculpture, video, photography and installation. The featured artists in the exhibition include Terry Adkins, Jonathas de Andrade, Rasheed Araeen, Kevin Beasley, Sergio de Camargo, Kōji Enokura, Ellen Gallagher, Robert Irwin, Sui Jianguo, Rashid Johnson, Sol LeWitt, Glenn Ligon, Laura Lima, Turiya Magadlela, Steve McQueen, Ulrike Müller, Oscar Murillo, Wangechi Mutu, Louise Nevelson, Lorraine O’Grady, Adam Pendleton, Pope.L, Robert Rauschenberg, Ad Reinhardt, Fred Sandback, Jack Tworkov, Carrie Mae Weems, Jack Whitten, and Fred Wilson. The versatility of their approaches to black color is available to be viewed at the Pace Gallery in New York from 24th June until 19th August 2016. Intending to prompt a three-way exchange between artist, artwork and viewer the assembly of works raise questions about the meaning and function of the black artwork.

All images courtesy of the artists and Pace Gallery.Featured images in slider: Glenn Ligon - Death of Tom, 2008, 16mm black and white film/video transfer, 23 min.; 4:3 aspect ratio, Edition AP 1 of 1. Courtesy of the artist Photograph by Brian Forrest, Installation view at Regen Projects, Los Angeles, © Glenn Ligon; Louise Nevelson - City-Reflection, 1972, wood painted black, (307.3 cm x 408.9 cm x 29.8 cm), 20 elements plus 2-part base, 22 parts total. Photograph by Al Mozell © 2016 Estate of Louise Nevelson/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Ellen Gallagher - Negroes Battling in a Cave, 2016 enamel, ink, rubber and paper on linen, detail. © Ellen Gallagher. Photography by Tom Powel Imaging. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery; Carrie Mae Weems - String Theory, 2016, archival pigment print on textured rag paper, 30" x 40" (76.2 cm x 101.6 cm), paper. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, Photograph courtesy the artist © Carrie Mae Weems

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