Magazine article Artforum International

Peter Young: Museum of Contemporary Art

Magazine article Artforum International

Peter Young: Museum of Contemporary Art

Article excerpt

Peter Young is often spoken of as a neglected artist, having fallen into obscurity after he abandoned New York and the art world in 1969, at the zenith of his renown, to wander the world, commune with Indian tribes, paint on canvases stretched over pine branches, and settle, two years later, in the ersatz mining town of Bisbee, Arizona. But Young, decided to recede from view and fixed the terms of his own neglect. An explanation can be found in the title of this survey, "Capitalist Masterpieces." After selling one of his whorling-dot paintings to New York's Whitney Museum of American Art, he deviously replaced its numbered title with Capita/ist Masterpiece--a good joke, but also a wry recognition that his searching paintings were bound to be commodified once the acrylic had hardened, once they had been extricated from the artist's Bowery studio.

In recent years, the narrative of disregard has been eclipsed by one of belated revelation. Not long before Young's show at Tucson's Museum of Contemporary Art, his paintings had been exhibited in a survey at MOMA PS1 and at galleries in New York, Munich, and Zurich. The paintings on view here--nineteen acrylics on canvas, made between 1965 and 1998--presented Young as a consummate colorist and an adroit synthesizer of programmatic Minimalism, post-painterly abstraction, and cosmological psychedelia. They also evinced Young's singular, recursive artistic path, characterized by the protracted, even languorous exploration of a limited number of figures and tropes--which often come to seem limitless.

Foremost among these are dots and grids, fundamental forms that have preoccupied Young since the mid-1960s. Originally inspired by a magazine photograph of an African woman with gobs of mud pressed into fissures in her skin, Young developed a pictorial language that is systematic and yet capable of great expressivity. He used a process called "triangulation" to create interlocking bands of colored dots, which he meticulously arrayed across canvases of up to eighty square feet. In some works, pullulating clusters of blue and white dots are superimposed on swaths of black paint, evoking an agitated firmament; in others, such as #8-1967, which was on view at MOCA, Young limns a realm of quaking molecules just beyond the bounds of our perception. …

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