Van de Weghe is pleased to present an exhibition of large-scale stripe paintings by Ross Bleckner at 66 Newtown Lane, East Hampton. The works on view were made during the 1980s, the height of the AIDS crisis, and a time that magnified the political and cultural role of art. Bleckner’s signature stripes, at once dazzlingly optical and mysteriously ethereal, came to dominate the New York art scene. He remains the youngest artist to receive a mid-career retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1994 at age 45. All of the works in the present exhibition were included in the Guggenheim’s show.
Born in Brooklyn in 1949, Bleckner grew up in Hewlitt, Long Island. He studied at N.Y.U. and with the encouragement of his professor, Chuck Close, enrolled at CalArts in 1972, a moment when there was a conceptual reexamination of painting’s meaning. Bleckner had been deeply influenced by a 1965 exhibition of Op Art at the Museum of Modern Art, The Responsive Eye. He utilized the graphic language of geometric abstraction, but softened its edges, bending its visual effects to address the personal, emotional and political. Two of the paintings in the exhibition are dominated by soft-edged black and white stripes. At once forbidding and sublime, like a bulb fluorescing behind prison bars or sunlight streaming through trees, the paintings appear lit from within. In Unknown Quantities of Light (Part V), 1988 Bleckner plays with our perception of afterimage, leading us to distrust our eyes. The stripes seem to intermittently fade, or to be enveloped by haze or fog, as if something within the painting has been vaporized. A feeling of absence is also palpable in Sex of Angels, 1988, the missing subject underlined by a ghostly halo that punctuates the optical flicker, a remnant of a lost soul. Deeply affected by the AIDS crisis that was robbing the world, the gay community and the artworld of so many people, he made his subject absence itself.
Bleckner utilizes stripes to much different effect in Infatuation,1986. Candy-colored and topped with a tromp l’oeil bow, they are repackaged as a package, a billboard-sized gift. Aptly titled, the painting prompts us to wonder what is being hidden by the celebratory wrapping, what could possibly satisfy such outsized anticipation. Here Bleckner emphasizes the longing for something withheld and the apprehension that precedes revelation.
It is instructive to see Ross Bleckner’s paintings, made during one pandemic, while in the midst of another. The work captures the sense of loss, dread, and danger attendant to crisis, and provides beauty, light, and quiet as consolation. The paintings are an exclamation point on the unspeakable. Ross Bleckner currently lives and works in New York and the Hamptons. Gallery hours are Thursday-Sunday 11:00am - 6:00pm, and by appointment. For further information, please contact Pierre Ravelle-Chapuis at email@example.com or 212-744-1900.