Elizabeth Murray, Möbius Band, 1974
Oil on canvas, 14 x 28 inches (35.6 cm x 71.1 cm)
Collection of Ellen Phelan and Joel Shapiro
March 31 – April 30, 2011
The Pace Gallery is pleased to present its eighth exhibition devoted to the work of Elizabeth Murray and the gallery’s first exhibition since Murray’s death in 2007. Elizabeth Murray: Painting in the ‘70s will feature thirty oil on canvas paintings created between 1970 and 1980, including important loans from the Detroit Institute of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Princeton University Art Museum, and Whitney Museum of American Art, as well as three later paintings. The exhibition will be on view at The Pace Gallery, 534 West 25th Street, from March 31 through April 30, 2011. The gallery will remain open from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 7.
Elizabeth Murray: Painting in the ‘70s is accompanied by a catalogue with an essay by Robert Storr, Dean of the School of Art at Yale University. Storr organized an important retrospective of nearly forty years of Murray’s work in October 2005 to inaugurate the Museum of Modern Art’s building. The occasion of this retrospective marked the first time a living artist was the subject of a one-person exhibition in the museum’s new space and, perhaps as importantly, it was the first full-scale exhibition devoted to a female artist at the Museum since Helen Frankenthaler’s retrospective in 1989. The exhibition later travelled to the Institut Valencia d’Art Modern, Spain (2006). Storr also included Murray’s work in his exhibition Think with the Senses, Feel with the Mind: Art in the Present Tense at the Italian Pavilion for the 52nd Venice Biennale (June-November 2007). Murray’s painting Do the Dance (2005), which MoMA acquired from Pace’s 2006 exhibition Elizabeth Murray: Paintings 2003–2006, is currently on view in the museum.
Surveying the decade of works on view in Elizabeth Murray: Painting in the ‘70s, it is evident that the early 1970s was a period of intense growth and experimentation for Murray, who had moved to New York City three years earlier. The cartoon-influenced narratives that characterized her work in the mid to late ‘60s evolved in the early ‘70s into a more non-figurative approach to painting. Murray, who had once again embraced oil paint, concerned herself with the most elemental components of a composition: line, shape, color, and surface. Her reductive, linear paintings from this period were created in dialogue with Brice Marden’s monochrome grounds and Jasper John’s painterly surfaces. Works such as Untitled (After Golden Delicious) and Giant Maiden, dating from 1972, have mottled, impastoed surfaces punctuated by swathes of golden yellow, deep green, rusty red and cobalt blue. Her forms are irregular circles and asymmetrical arches that hug the top or bottom of the painting and triangles whose corners meet the sides of the canvas, all of which push against the constraints of the rectangle.
By 1973, Murray had refined her voice and was creating paintings that utilized a geometric language to build an abstract form of narrative. Three bodies of work emerged around this time: the Step paintings, stacked rectangles and squares and irregular ladder-like structures; the horizontal Mobius Band compositions anchored by tiny squares of solid color; and the small-scale Heart Beat paintings, straight lines radiating from a half moon shape and pulsating with energy. These paintings were Murray’s response to the male-dominated painting styles of the decade.
As the decade progressed, Murray became increasingly ambitious as a painter. Around 1975–6, her paintings grew from the more intimately-scaled works of the early ‘70s to large-scale shaped canvases composed of curvilinear, geometric images and bold color combinations. The pictorial tension of these complex paintings, such as Parting and Together, 1978, and Twist of Fate, 1979, both of which will be on view in the exhibition, pushed the boundaries of the two-dimensional picture plane, foreshadowing the three-dimensional paintings that would characterize Murray’s work in the 1980s.
By the end of the ‘70s, Murray no longer felt constrained by the traditional limitations of painting. Figuration and abstraction converged with a re-emergence of cartoon-like imagery and developing a personal narrative took on a larger role in her works. The exhibition presents one of Murray’s early, iconic paintings from 1971―Beer Glass at Noon, a skewed still life of a beer glass painted in a stylized manner that paid homage to Cézanne, Gris, and Picasso. Nine years later, the reintroduction of scenes from her everyday life enlivened Murray’s practice once again. The stemmed glass as a subject reappears in Breaking, 1980, an asymmetrical two-part painting divided by a zigzag running down the center of a frenetic composition that plays out across both halves. Upon closer inspection, the viewer realizes that the painting is an image of a glass shattering into pieces, with its blue liquid spilling out. In 1986, Murray revisits Beer Glass at Noon, created 15 years earlier, with two Beer Glass compositions painted in a style reminiscent of this early ‘70s work. Both paintings will be on view in the exhibition.
Elizabeth Murray: Painting in the ‘70s also includes the last painting Murray created in her lifetime, Everybody Knows (2007), which is being exhibited for the first time. Seen alongside her first mature works from the 1970s, Everybody Knows underscores the radical, pioneering nature of Elizabeth Murray’s journey as a painter.
Elizabeth Murray (b. 1940, Chicago – d. 2007, New York) received a B.F.A. from the Art Institute of Chicago (1962) and an M.F.A. from Mills College, Oakland, California (1964). She was awarded honorary degrees from her alma mater, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1992), as well as the Rhode Island School of Design (1993) and the New School University (2001). Murray’s work has been the subject of more than 85 solo exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world since her New York City debut in the 1972 Annual Exhibition: Contemporary American Painting at the Whitney Museum, where she participated in six Whitney Biennial exhibitions from 1973 to 1991. Murray first exhibited at the Paula Cooper Gallery in 1974 and joined Pace in 1996. In 1987–88, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Albert and Vera List Visual Arts Center at MIT, Cambridge, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, jointly organized a major retrospective exhibition of Murray’s paintings and drawings that later traveled to The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Des Moines Art Center, the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and the Whitney Museum. Not long after, Murray was invited to participate in the 1988–9 Carnegie International at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.
In 1995, The Museum of Modern Art invited Murray to curate an Artist’s Choice exhibition: Elizabeth Murray: Modern Women at the Museum of Modern Art, following her inclusion in Kirk Varnedoe’s exhibition High & Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture (1990–91). (In that installation, Varnedoe juxtaposed Murray’s work with that of Jeff Koons.) Additional one-person museum shows have been presented by the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus (1991–92), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1998), and the Hopkins Center for the Arts, Dartmouth College, Hanover (2002). In 2009, the Arts Club of Chicago presented an exhibition of eleven of Murray’s paintings dating from 1981 to 2007. A catalogue with an essay by writer, curator, and educator Sarah Lewis accompanied the exhibition.
Murray was the recipient of the Walter M. Campana Award from the Art Institute of Chicago (1982), the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award (1984), the Skowhegan Medal for Painting (1986), the Larry Aldrich Prize in Contemporary Art (1993), and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award (1999). In 1992, Murray became a member of the American Institute of Arts and Letters, New York. She was also honored by Artists Space, New York, in 2001. In introducing Murray that evening, Varnedoe referred to her work “as dramas of form and color that accept, indeed demand, to play on the more austere terrain of high abstract art, in decisions about push and pull, bright and dark, fragmented and whole, planes and volumes, sculptural and painterly, that move us before we know what they are about.” In June 2002, Murray and her husband, poet Bob Holman, were bestowed with the National Artist Award by Anderson Ranch Art Center, Aspen. Four years later, Murray was presented with the College Art Association’s Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement at their 94th Annual Conference.
In addition to the four paintings on loan from museums, Murray’s work is part of public collections in the United States and abroad, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; The Art Institute of Chicago; The Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Dallas Museum of Art; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Institut Valencia d’Art Modern, Spain; Israel Museum; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; Saint Louis Art Museum; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; among many others. Both the Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of America Art own multiple examples of her work.