The Joy of Painting: Giorgio Griffa at Casey Kaplan

Marks to canvas, or even more concretely: gestures to a surface. Rarely is the act of painting — the rote, even mechanical notion of applying media from point A to B — so vividly celebrated as in Fragments 1968 – 2012, Giorgio Griffa's career-spanning survey at Casey Kaplan in West Chelsea. That this four-decade mark-making exploration is Griffa's first stateside solo exhibition since 1973 makes it even more auspicious. — Brian Fee, Austin contributor

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Giorgio Griffa | QUASI UNA SPIRALE, 2008, Acrylic on canvas, 34.6 x 29.1 inches each, Image courtesy of the artist and Casey Kaplan, NY, Photo: Jean Vong

This cyclical instance — 40 years of works exhibited 40 years after his last U.S. solo show — feels in keeping with Griffa's nuanced relationship to his sequential oeuvre. Throughout the exhibition, he exudes the pure poetry of mark-making on unstretched canvas. QUASI UNA SPIRALE acts as an effective portal into Griffa's world, a newer work and one of the few from this set of 15 that has been exhibited publicly before. Four sections of jute-like canvas hang in a square-ish arrangement, featuring similar shades of blues, oranges, pinks, and greens radiating from their un-meeting centers in an imperfect spiral. It parallels both the Fibonacci spiral and Griffa's belief that the gesture of painting is infinite. QUASI UNA SPIRALE feels complete, but the energy implicit in these strokes that do not match up and the varying tones (so close! yet so unique!) belie the painting's 'static' composition. Its neighbor Linea spezzata, created 38 years earlier, is 'just' three seismic motions of brush to canvas, yet I was so engrossed in following the evolution of these lines across the folded backdrop that they seemed to pulsate across.

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Giorgio Griffa | Linea spezzata, 1970, Acrylic on canvas, 68.9 x 90.6 inches, Image courtesy of the artist and Casey Kaplan, NY, Photo: Jean Vong
Gallery III (1)
Exhibition view, Fragments: 1968-2012, Courtesy of Casey Kaplan, NY, Photo: Jean Vong

In most works here, Griffa deliberately abbreviates the final gestural line — whether the cardiac pattern in Linea spezzata or chunky multicolored waves in Festone or laboriously long lines in Linee orizzontali. In essence, he is saying 'this painting may be complete, but painting (the total act) is constant, forever changing, forever engaging'. Maybe this is why they feel so energetic, despite their reductive descriptions on paper. The four-part DDB (DA DANIEL BUREN) bears an animated quality, as robin's egg blue lines descend between a signature Daniel Buren pinstripe pattern, only to fly into exhilarating arcs by the middle of the third section. Or how Segni orizzontali's five daubed striations retain the repetition of the artist's thumbprints.

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Giorgio Griffa | Segni orizzontali, 1975, Acrylic on canvas, 57.5 x 74 inches, Image courtesy of the artist and Casey Kaplan, NY, Photo: Jean Vong
Gallery II (1)
Exhibition view, Fragments: 1968-2012, Courtesy of Casey Kaplan, NY, Photo: Jean Vong

The gallery remounted this exhibition after the wrath of Hurricane Sandy. Despite an entirely new selection of works in this post-Sandy show, I believe this array — and specifically staging this exhibition in New York — speaks to the resilience of Griffa's notion of painting. He has been carrying the torch mostly privately these last 40 years, following inexhaustibly where next the mark will go. In his humble vocabulary of strokes and a fearlessly evolving palette, Griffa highlights the joy of the act. The only other required ingredient is us, the viewers. Like Griffa states in a recent Bloomberg interview: “You see, the works need people. Without people, the work is asleep.” As in my up-close scrutinizing of Linea spezzata, our gaze activates these works  and, like a brush to canvas, painting lives on.

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Giorgio Griffa | PAOLO E PIERO, 1982, Acrylic on canvas, 118.1 x 212.6 inches, Image courtesy of the artist and Casey Kaplan, NY, Photo: Jean Vong


Giorgio Griffa joined Casey Kaplan Gallery in 2011. Solo presentations of his work include MACRO, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rome (2011), Neuer Kunstverein, Aschaffenburg (2005), Städische Kunsthalle, Dusseldorf (1978) and Sonnabend Gallery, New York (1970), among others. His work was presented in the 38th and 40th Venice Bienniale in 1978 and 1980, as well as in group exhibitions at Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Museum Abteiberg, Kunstverein Münster, Castello di Rivoli, Turin, Kunstverein Hannover, Stadtische Museum, Monchengladbach, Kunstverein Frankfurt and Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Fragments 1968 – 2012 continues through March 2.

Brian Fee is an art punk currently based in Austin, TX. His culture blog Fee’s List covers his three loves (art, film, live music) occurring in his other three loves (the Lone Star State, the Big Apple, and Tokyo).

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