Elizabeth Murray (b. 1940, Chicago; d. 2007, New York) belongs to a generation of American painters who had to come to terms with the legacies of Abstract Expressionism, Pop art, and Minimalism. Murray studied in Chicago and California before settling in New York at the end of the 1960s. These different artistic contexts fed to her work, and helped her question the relations between painter and subject, as well as between the painting and its surrounding space.
Her work emerged in the early 1970s at a time when modern painting was being challenged. She was in contact with a generation of artists including Brice Marden, Joel Shapiro, and Jennifer Bartlett, and first started her compositions with elementary yet ambiguous shapes, wavering between figurative and abstract. These motifs were then deployed on monumental formats with irregular contours. Influenced by Frank Stella’s “shaped canvases” and Lee Bontecou’s mural sculptures, Murray’s painting seems to be constantly transforming. It literally detaches itself from the wall to assert its own materiality and interact with the viewer. The composition’s dynamism and the colors’ vitality bring these abstract works on a more eccentric terrain than most of her contemporaries did.
In the 1980s, Murray’s work became loaded with elements from popular culture: comics, street art, cartoons. Forms became more explicitly biomorphic, thus bringing a Surrealist and comic touch to the work. The artist often said that although painting was at the center of her existence, it had everything to gain from adapting to the rest of her life. Her repertoire of shapes features objects from her daily life prominently, and the anecdotal is promoted to the dimension of high abstract painting.
The three paintings featured in this room put forth her efforts of formal reduction, the deconstruction of the painting, but also a more figurative and oniric element present in her work. Across the Atlantic, she is considered as a major artist—one of few women to have had a retrospective at the MoMA in her lifetime—and yet, her work has been seldom shown in Europe.
- Exhibition curated by Samuel Gross
- With the support of Pace Gallery, New York, and Maria Bernheim Galerie, Zurich