Sunday, February 7, 2010
Artist Anne Truitt (1921-2004) was way ahead of the game. Associated with minimalist and color field artists like Morris Lewis and Kenneth Noland, and making work that anticipated the works of Donald Judd and Ellsworth Kelly, Anne was a force of her time in many respects. Yet, while reading two of her published journals/autobiographies, Turn and Daybook, I was struck by how different she was in many ways from that era of masculine sculpture. Her books intricately interweave a wonderful life and personality of conflicting hard and soft edges.
Anne was born into an upper middle class Baltimore family and was the third generation of well educated women in her family. She attended Bryn Mawr, majored in psychology, and worked for a short time as a nurse. There is something so different in this generation of women, the formal and proper nature of her writing was strikingly different from any other autobiography I've read. Yet, the effort it took for a woman to carve out her own place in that world was unique and I think it took a certain type of woman to be so self avowed as to make a go at it. Another interesting dichotomy was her relationship to this minimal "masculine" practice of art yet through a decidedly unashamed feminine perspective. She compares looking at a newly finished sculpture to seeing her children for the first time - looking at something you've created and recognizing it because its been in you for quite some time. Anne "spends time" with her works - really grooving (though she would never use that word) on the colors of the sun setting in her studio.... drawing inspiration from nature and light. She runs out of money at one point and is using her old baby changing table for a drawing table. And yet she is hard as nails at the same time- Clement Greenberg said that her piece Hardcastle "scared the shit out of him". Anne was also showing at the Whitney, getting Guggenheim Fellowships, and heading up the Yaddo residency for a while. Greenberg called her one of the DC Three with Kenneth Noland and Morris Lewis.
Anne believed that color could have psychological vibrations, and the purification of color, as on a piece of art, isolated the experience of the color to a thing instead of an experience. This experienced turned art object way of working said so much about her desire to order and control her surroundings while not giving up her emotional and natural connection to the world around her. Anne Truitt has been getting a late yet very deserved second wave of appreciation with a show at the Hirshhorn Museum in DC and a great write up by Anne Wagner in Artforum. Though she seems to be a bit shoved out of art history texts I think that if she were included we would have an illuminated and more nuanced view of the gendered and contained rules to minimalist art.