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“The picture spoke its green,” reads the last line of a poem by Mark Doty dedicated to Joan Mitchell, a tender meditation on the immediacy of her canvases. I pondered Doty’s words as I strolled through Monique Mouton’s latest solo exhibition at Bridget Donahue, the artist’s second show at the esteemed gallery on Bowery, titled The Theme is Green.
Approaching Mouton’s artwork from a purely formalist perspective would do it an injustice, while dwelling on the visual affinities between her work and that of the New York School artists seems redundant: from Helen Frankenthaler’s soak-stain method to the sweeping gestures of Robert Motherwell, the art historical relationship is palpable. More strikingly, what urges consideration is the inherently poetic sensibility that Mouton shares with Joan Mitchell.
“Visual poetry” is a phrase that gets thrown around quite a lot these days. Being an easy crowd-pleaser, it suggests — like instant coffee — that one can get the same experience in less time, for who wouldn’t choose looking at a picture over reading columns of obscure lines? More and more, I see those two words used as self-explanatory, and can’t help to feel a slight frustration at the implication that a comparison to poetry somehow makes an artwork more easily digestible. Poetry has its own complexities, visual or not.
These complexities are exemplified by the poetic sensibility of Mouton’s aesthetic. Adorning the walls of the rectangular gallery space are large patterns of stains absorbed by an intricate paper surface, in various shades of purple, yellow, blue, and, of course, green. Some patterns appear to devour one another, while others gently bump into each other, only to part ways, like when our sleeves accidentally touch on the subway. Then there are those spaces that Mouton leaves blank, charging the surface with anticipation and evoking what is left unsaid. Once again I am reminded of Doty’s poem:
continuous field so charged
as to fill the room in which it hangs
with an inaudible humming,
as if to erase the gallery over which it triumphs
An inaudible humming, indeed. The works hover in the room like apparitions, and I catch myself suddenly feeling a rush, afraid that they might evaporate before my very eyes. In an attempt to document these apparitions, I take out my phone and snap a photograph. However, I find that all I captured is a reflection of myself absorbed by the glass frame in an expansive field of hazy colors.
The works on view do not actually contain much green: only one work represents the color’s authority, with a bleak green shape brushed out over three quarters of its surface. Yet, as implied by the title, green is not merely a color — it’s a theme. Green is the combination of yellow and blue (both of which are amply found in the show). The color signals safety and permission, lack of experience, unripe fruit, jealousy. Mouton’s paintings embody all of this. They are not tube-fresh references to fields of grass; they do not aim to transport the viewer to sunlit places. Rather, the paintings reveal the coldness of the colors, their pallor.
Soaked up by the large sheets of paper, the colors have a muted quality, reminiscent of a dimmed screen. Like whispers, the power of Mouton’s paintings lies in their subtleness; they project a sense of secrecy that makes one lean in closer to hear what they are saying. Perhaps that’s Mark Doty meant when he wrote that the picture spoke its green.
Monique Mouton: The Theme is Green continues at Bridget Donohue (99 Bowery, 2nd Floor, Manhattan) through January 13, 2019.
“Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants—11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data—a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were…
he ownership of images has a long and nuanced legal history, which has evolved dramatically in recent years as cultural standards and photographic technologies have rapidly advanced
The show, which honors the 50th anniversary of an exhibition history once ignored, continues a series of projects documenting Wilmington’s contemporary art scene.
Renty and his daughter Delia. Renty was an enslaved African, kidnapped from the Congo, sold and forced into slave labor on the South Carolina plantation of B.F. Taylor
What is the relation between possessing a person, possessing their image, and dispossessing their progeny
As a scholar of African American history and photography whose work has focused on the status of violent images in museums and archives, I fully support the validity of Ms. Tamara Lanier’s claim and the amicus brief.
Two K-12 art teachers will each receive a $1,000 cash gift and an additional $500 to put toward classroom art supplies. Nominations are due October 31.
The daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor, Delia, Drana, Alfred, Jack, George Fassena, and Jem remained in an unused storage cabinet until 1975, when it was discovered by an employee of the Peabody Museum.
I am writing in support of the amicus curiae brief submitted by Professor Ariella Aïsha Azoulay of Brown University for the full restitution of the daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia, currently held by Harvard University, to their familial descendant, Tamara Lanier.
We cannot be indifferent to the long-lasting effects of photography. The photographs at the center of Lanier v. Harvard are relentless in making Renty and Delia Taylor work and perform as slaves. The pain inflicted on them has not ceased. Photography has the capacity to propagate harm, and we have the moral obligation to interrupt…