Magazine article Artforum International

Vija Celmins: Matthew Marks Gallery

Magazine article Artforum International

Vija Celmins: Matthew Marks Gallery

Article excerpt

In college, I kept a postcard of a Vija Celmins's graphite waves-cape taped to my door. In part, I missed the ocean, but it was also a reminder that the things you love should be done well, and with a care that might even border on obsession. (It's no surprise to learn that a copy of painter Ad Reinhardt's 1953 article "Twelve Rules for a New Academy," with its disciplined promotion of "pure" painting and disavowal of expression, is pinned to Celmins's studio wall.) And at the Whitney Museum of American Art's inaugural downtown exhibition in 2015, Celmins's stark, realist painting of a heater glowing red on a gray ground, which she made in graduate school at University of California, Los Angeles, in 1964, was my favorite work. That canvas referenced a hybrid Pop/Minimalism, humble conditions (an object from her studio), burning ambition, and Manet's reinvention of the still life all at once. Since then, Celmins has steadily, quietly, made a name for herself as an artist who paints and draws with extraordinary precision, continually returning to imagery of patterned perfection found in nature: water, sky, desert, spider-webs.

The slow burn, the care, the quiet--all were present in her most recent exhibition of paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures at Matthew Marks Gallery in New York, her first display of new work in seven years and a small preview of her major retrospective opening at San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art next year and traveling to the Met Breuer in New York.

Since the 1960s, Celmins has worked from photographs she takes and collects. Her nearly monochrome matte canvases give up multiple colors when you look at them long enough, especially the "reverse" skies in this show, which feature dark stars spotting a white field--flecks of blue, orange, and brown amid the gray, white, and black. The surfaces of the skies have a smooth, even waxy flatness. The depth of the pictures, despite their lack of evidence of facture, is partly due to the painstaking procedure with which Celmins builds an image: She drops a tiny piece of liquid rubber from a sable brush where every star will be and builds the sky around each bump with black paint mixed with ultramarine blue, umber, and white. …

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