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Square painting with bright red and blue brushstrokes

Installation view of Guston/Morandi/Scully, curated by Sukanya Rajaratnam at Mnuchin Gallery, September 8 - October 15, 2022. Photography by Tom Powel Imaging, Inc.

By Tom McGlynn

The humble brushstroke is never a bad place to begin when thinking on the grander significance with which it can be deployed. The curatorial correlation of these three painters offers an opportunity to make relative judgements about how each came to their individual conclusions on painterly touch. Giorgio Morandi maintained throughout his career an exquisitely modest gesture and scale. Philip Guston’s brushmarks tend toward expressive aggregation and disaggregation. Sean Scully has well established his large-scale and constructively compact “walls”of brushstrokes, typically oriented in counterpoised cardinal directions and which present like proxy heraldic devices: as boldly woven as Gaelic tartans. Further extrapolating from such diverse painterly temperaments the following assumptions are observed: Morandi’s quietest gestures instantiate a withdrawal from the world, as does his subject of private domestic accumulation; Guston sublimated his earlier figurative subjects of childish aggression, social injustice and war into abstract accretions of clashing and harmonizing colors in countervailing “battles” across his canvases; the mnemonic rhyme and loping meter Scully composes with his brushstroke patterns alternatively resist and succumb to a sublime type of reason. What this show suggests then is not a grand unifying narrative of generational or ideational consistency but a deeper consideration of each individual’s expression via their tactical differences.

In his erudite catalogue essay for the exhibit, Phong Bui importantly points to how Guston’s “active resistance to a visible framework” via “reciprocal responses between the artist and his surroundings” helped to ground the artist’s sensibility in its dynamic evolution, a point that Guston ultimately acted out in his introduction of the radically resistant “stumblebum” figuration of his late career. The multiple formal reciprocities evident between the three artists in this exhibition could be used to calcify immemorial frameworks, or to more hopefully resist such immutable assumptions. A concordance of universal forms, in other words, doesn’t need to be framed within a construct of Universal Form. 

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