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"Sean Scully: The Nineties - Paintings, Pastels, Watercolors, Photographs "
2001-06-14 until 2001-09-16
Haus der Kunst
Munich, , DE Germany

Sean Scully, who was born in Ireland in 1945, lives in New York, Barcelona and London. In the last three decades, he has produced a very consistent and characteristically picturesque body of works. In contrast to the retrospectives in the Lenbachhaus in Munich (1989) and the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt (1995), this exhibition concentrates exclusively on his current work, and consists of around 100 paintings, pastels, watercolors and photographs of the last ten years.

Piet Mondrian, Mark Rothko and Henri Matisse are the most important influences on the painting of Sean Scully. Since the 1970s, the artist has restricted himself to a severely reduced form repertoire of lines, stripes and blocks for his pictures. Scully groups his picture elements in an alternating order and thus constructs monumental yet subtle picture arrangements in which the contrast of figure and ground is largely neutralized.

Horizontally and vertically striped fields cover the pictures like an all-over structure that has no center and seems to continue beyond the bounds of the format. However, by means of a spatially accentuated center panel or a separately inserted color panel (an inset, as Scully calls it), this all-over structure is constantly broken up, creating a suspension-filled relationship between repetition and contrast, balance and imbalance, symmetry and asymmetry.

Scully uses color to fill his basic forms with expression and enrich them emotionally. While he considers himself to be in the mainstream of the minimalist tradition, he attempts with his work to reconquer the expressive capabilities of painting. Artists such as Carl Andre or Donald Judd work with comparable forms, which Scully augments with picturesque and sensual components. His pictures are intended to attain a human force of expression, and for the painter they can often be associated with identifiable emotions. He chooses his colors intuitively – he finds them in an arduous process that can include frequent overpainting.

The central theme of Scully’s pictures is the painting method: the artist builds up a succession of thick layers of paint that accumulate to form intriguing color effects. It is a painting process that can be reconstructed, in particular at the edges of the stripes, where the contrasting colors come together. The paint is applied in wet layers, with vertical up and down movements, even when the canvas has to be rotated by 90 degrees. The brush follows the form, and the underlying layers help to determine the final colors.

Scully fixes the structures of his pictures very quickly, and they are then hardly changed. He often divides a picture into two, and then fills the two halves with contrasting rhythms and colors. The whole is characterized by separation and connection, color and non-color, opaqueness and transparency. An ever-recurring motif is the chessboard, which turns up again and again in modern art. Scully finds this interesting because of its simplicity and its figure-ground relationship, which makes it possible to see each field either as a figure or as the background. The disciplined restriction to a reduced form repertoire allows great freedom for emotions that resonate in the way the paint is applied and in the colors themselves. Scully’s works have no fixed meaning and no unambiguous message. They are open to all sorts of projections. The viewer has to see inside the pictures, as Scully says.

Scully’s painting has a relationship to reality, but is not dominated by it. The painter is certainly not trying to portray anything. At the same time, Scully’s pictures permit associations with landscapes or objects. Many of the large-format pictures, often consisting of several elements, evoke memories of façades, buildings and ornaments, and occasionally of landscapes. There are both similarities and contradictions between Scully’s multiple canvases, and also within the individual works. They maintain their autonomy while still belonging together. They follow a rhythm that, as in music, can be divided into introduction, development and recapitulation. The principle of series and the principle of composition, the subordination of the parts to the whole, maintain a perfect balance.

Following the retrospectives of the works of Frank Stella, Imi Knoebel and Robert Ryman, the Haus der Kunst, with this exhibition of Sean Scully, is continuing the theme of important milestones of non-objective painting of the second half of the twentieth century. The exhibition was put together in close cooperation with the artist. After its presentation in the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf and in the Haus der Kunst it will appear in a reduced form in IVAM Centre Julio González in Valencia from 31 January until 7 April 2002.

Sean Scully
Small Barcelona Painting 9.28.99, 1999
Oil on Linen
45.7 x 61 cm
Privatsammlung, Frankfurt am Main

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