Bartlett's "hard paper," the steel plate support of her invention, opened a path of extraordinary scale and installation potential. The ADAA presentation, a condensed overview of the artist's 40+ year exploration of the format, traces the minimalist undercurrent of the earliest plate paintings through the expressive and lush imagery that immediately followed Rhapsody (1976, MoMA collection) up to and including recent works.
Bartlett's conception of the steel plate format and the initial dot imagery were born out of experimentation with an adaptable support and process ideas begun by the preceding minimalist generation.
The artist's plates are prepared today as they were in 1968, with a 1/4 inch silkscreened grid on a white enameled steel plate. Prior to 1977, Bartlett worked exclusively in the plate format and the artist chose counting sequences to construct her images. This was exemplified in works like Positive Negative Series #1 (1971) and Summer (1972), which will both be shown in New York for the first time since the early 1970s. A series of studies and drawings from the 1970s reveal how she experimented with sequencing and color waves. Her graph paper studies map in detail her process for the plate works on view in the booth and major paintings now in museum collections.
Bartlett's earliest plate paintings were entirely composed of dots contained within the grid, but by 1979 and At Sea, the artist was absorbed with figurative and landscape subjects and the marks were expressively applied freehand. At Sea is all the more startling for its expansive palette and brisk, slashing brushstrokes. This expressive paint application would become central to the artist's later work. Critics at the time noted that in Rhapsody's final section an ocean theme was introduced, a motif that became a touchstone for Bartlett and was fully developed in At Sea.
In the recent works, 1–500, Horizontal (2010) and Sm. M. Lg. 1–1,000, Horizontal (2011) the dots and grid re-emerge but the brightly hued dots appear in waves—closer in temperament to At Sea or her pointillist landscape plates of the 1980s.
This project begun for The Art Show—to refresh our understanding of Bartlett's transformative format will be enlarged in a gallery exhibit in April, accompanied by a comprehensive book.
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The New York Times