“Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.”
– Sol LeWitt
New York, NY – January 31, 2023 – 125 Newbury presents its third exhibition, Bartlett/Jensen/Judd: No Illusions, which brings together works by Jennifer Bartlett (1941–2022), Alfred Jensen (1903–1981) and Donald Judd (1928–1994), three American artists who pioneered new possibilities in systems of abstraction. The exhibition opens February 10, 2023 and will remain on view through April 1 at the gallery’s 395 Broadway location.
Reflecting different generations and distinct approaches to artmaking, Jennifer Bartlett, Alfred Jensen, and Donald Judd were linked by a deep commitment to art as material fact rather than illusion. Exploring the visual and conceptual resonances across their practices, the exhibition brings Jensen's canvases of the 1960s and 1970s into dialogue with sculptures by Judd from the 1970s and 1980s and paintings by Bartlett from the 1970s, 1990s and 2000s. Throughout, the organizing system of the grid is transformed from a tool of objective and rational thought into a vehicle for deeply personal, subjective, and sometimes mystical expression.
A seminal figure in New York’s mid-century avant-garde, Alfred Jensen belonged to the first generation of the Abstract Expressionists, yet despite his central presence in the New York scene of the ‘50s and his close relationship with Mark Rothko, he always identified as an outsider. Beginning in the 1960s, his work had profound impact on a younger generation of artists, in particular Donald Judd, who in 1963 wrote: “Now and then a chance occurs for a narrow, subjective, categorical statement: Jensen is great. He is one of the best painters in the United States.” Drawing on a wide range of references from pre- Columbian art to Guatemalan textiles to the Pythagorean theorem, Jensen materialized his synthetic and deeply personal philosophy in a language of vibrant color and pattern. “Jensen has elaborate theories based on Mayan, Babylonian and the other astrological, astronomical and calendrical schemes,” Judd observed, “The theories are important to him and completely irrelevant to the viewer. The color is particular to Jensen and very good.”
While the industrial materials and fabrication of Donald Judd’s art might seem at a remove the signature impasto of Jensen’s highly worked surfaces, Judd and Jensen were united by an investment in systems. Their works dissociate and dissolve those systems, however, transforming them from structures of logic into vehicles for unmediated experiences of the sublime. Judd’s plywood sculptures, a series of which are featured in the exhibition, evince the almost spiritual import he placed on humble, everyday materials and ubiquitous rectilinear geometries. Even as the sculptures’ open forms reveal their internal composition, they remain as inscrutable and mysterious as the symbols that populate Jensen’s canvases.
If Judd’s innovations of the 1960s sought to expand the definition of sculpture, Jennifer Bartlett’s paintings of the 1970s were similarly ambitious. Belonging to the generation of artists who emerged in reaction to the aesthetic austerity of Minimalism, Bartlett became known for re-introducing subjectivity into serial and process-based forms. She began exhibiting large-scale, multi-panel paintings on individual steel plates, which were arranged in gridded patterns on the wall. These plate paintings summoned the rhetoric of Minimal, Conceptual, and process-oriented practices yet remained emphatically painterly. They expressed the purity of mathematical and chromatic logics yet processed those organizing structures through a decidedly subjective filter. The resulting paintings incorporated the lessons of both Jensen and Judd, transmuting rational systems into a language of sensation and feeling. As assemblages of flat, metallic plates that adhere flush to the wall, Bartlett’s works celebrate the objecthood of painting. Just as Jensen’s heavy use of impasto ratifies the materiality of paint—and Judd’s unpainted plywood testifies to the sculpture’s presence as an object in the room—so too Bartlett’s steel plates, which operate more as things than images. Her compositions of dots, dashes, and lines unfold rhythmically, threatening to escape their containing grids, while announcing their status as hand-made marks and therefore traces of the artist’s own body. The resulting paintings refuse the logic of illusion, instead becoming talismans not only for the artist’s thought, but her embodied labor.
No Illusions celebrates this focus on the elemental fact of art as object—a refusal of illusion in favor of real presence—as a leitmotif that recurs across all three artists’ oeuvres.
ABOUT JENNIFER BARTLETT
Jennifer Bartlett (b. 1941, d. 2022) explored the realms of Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and Conceptualism, often inhabiting all simultaneously. She was known for large-scale installations that spanned entire rooms and gallery spaces that pulled from her immediate surroundings; houses, gardens, and the ocean. In 1968, she began working on square steel enameled plates, launching a series of her most notable works. Bartlett worked in two dimensions and dabbled with three, with expressions of simple controlled lines ruled by precise mathematical systems that later evolved to painterly realism. Bartlett received her MFA in 1965 from the Yale School of Art and Architecture.
Bartlett's works are in the collections of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Tate Modern, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among many others.
ABOUT ALFRED JENSEN
Alfred Jensen (b. 1903, d. 1981) is recognized as one of the great abstract painters of his generation and a precursor of Conceptual art. Evidenced throughout his production is an evolution of knowledge, philosophical thought, and consciousness that builds upon relational concepts. He was inspired by his wide-ranging studies of systems and philosophies, extending from theories of color and light, mathematics, and scientific formulations to the Mayan calendar, hieroglyphics, and systems of divination, such as the I Ching. Using a bold polychromatic palette and gridded compositions, Jensen structured his paintings and works on paper with overlapping systems of forms, colors, signs, and numbers.
Jensen’s work is held in numerous collections throughout the United States and abroad, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth; Dallas Museum of Art; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Kunsthaus Zürich, Switzerland; Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among others.
ABOUT DONALD JUDD
Donald Judd (b. 1928, d. 1994), one of the most innovative artists of the postwar period, redefined the understanding of materials, objects, and space. In his groundbreaking 1964 treatise “Specific Objects,” he articulated a new form of artwork that exists on its own terms, proposing a break with notions of metaphor and representation. Throughout his career, Judd created clearly defined forms that inspire focused perception. From the 1960s onward, he pioneered the use of industrial materials and commercial fabrication with the assistance of artisans and manufacturers, creating works to his specifications. Judd studied philosophy and art history at Columbia University and painting at the Art Students League.
Judd’s works are in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois, The Broad, the Cleveland Museum of Arts, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum, Dia: Beacon, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Modern Museum of Art, among many others.