Dorothea Rockburne

Long-term view, Dia Beacon

 

 

 

Overview

Following the 2018 presentation of Dorothea Rockburne’s large-scale works from the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dia has reopened the expanded exhibition with two new galleries added, focusing on works produced in the early 1970s through the early 1980s.

The first gallery features an interactive carbon paper installation by Rockburne, dating from 1973. The artist began to use carbon paper as one of her materials in the early 1970s, creating large wall installations by folding, pressing, and scoring a sheet of carbon paper against the wall and subsequently allowing marks to durationally “make themselves” as pigment was disturbed and transferred to other surfaces. As visitors move through the gallery at Dia Beacon, they unconsciously engage with the works by creating micro drafts of air that dislodge particles in the wall drawings. Over time, as these transfers take place, the room becomes a visual log of the activity within it and the time that has passed. 

Rockburne became preoccupied with the Golden Section or “divine proportion” as she pursued a new artistic language born from her understanding of the presence of geometry in nature as well as human-made surroundings. The second gallery presents works from Rockburne’s Golden Section paintings of the 1970s, constructed from linen coated in gesso and varnish, which were then cut and folded based on the mathematical ratio. Also on view are five of Rockburne’s Egyptian Paintings, a monochromatic series developed in the late 1970s, which employed new materials to explore these ideas and incorporated her interest in the art of ancient Egypt. 

Dorothea Rockburne is made possible by significant support from COS and Someland Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Beth Rudin DeWoody, May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation; Kathy Fuld; Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; New York State Council on the Arts, a State agency; and Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, Inc.

 

Every surface in Dorothea Rockburne’s work has a distinct presence, whether it is the luster of densely applied graphite, the varnished folds of linen, the paint baked on with heat lamps, or the corporeal sheen of grease. Her practice incorporates an analysis of form and a bodily relationship to the work, where the inherent dynamics of specific materials form the locus of the art. Rockburne’s attention to materiality and intersection speaks to a varied background, spanning academic training at Montreal’s École des Beaux-Arts, interdisciplinary experimentation at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and radical approaches to performance at New York City’s Judson Dance Theater. Rockburne’s mathematical studies with Max Dehn at Black Mountain, for example, deeply influenced her practice. Like logic or geometry, her oeuvre aims to describe the most far-reaching forces of the world in elegant yet deceptively simple terms.

By the 1960s, Rockburne had grown dissatisfied with her painterly work. She began to integrate thought and emotion with freely available industrial materials “to form a new and forceful motivating engine,” and further educated herself about geometry, topology, and set theory—a mathematic concept wherein a collection of elements is conceived as a whole. In Tropical Tan (1967–68), four adjoined pig-iron panels are painted across the center, leaving a steel border exposed. The crimped panels magnify the interplay of these materials, particularly when light hits the surface. The cross formed within the bend of each panel is a unifying structural motif—prefiguring the artist’s ongoing fascination with the potential
of the fold—inspired by the air ducts seen from her studio window.

Even when she returned to materials linked to drawing and painting, Rockburne eschewed normative approaches, choosing instead to innovate form using the fluid logic of relief. In Set (1970/2018), she hangs, manipulates, overlaps, and spaces paper and chipboard into units suspended from the wall. For Intersection (1971/2018), the artist placed sheets of partially rolled plastic and paper perpendicular to the wall beneath a line marked in charcoal. Unfurled on the floor, paper is soaked in oil until translucent and then affixed to another sheet of plastic. While the oil (originally crude oil) evokes the industrial materials used by peers such as Carl Andre and Donald Judd, Rockburne offers a unique combination of sculptural procedure and visceral matter, marked by the influence of set theory.

Although Domain of the Variable (1972/2018) asserts a relation to conceptual math in both title and organization, it also forces a physical reading of the work. Paper board glued to the wall is stripped, leaving a painterly trace. Red grease is smeared on paper and board to stain the gallery wall. For the Golden Section Paintings (1974—76) Rockburne follows their titular geometric proportions, yet articulates them by stapling linen to the wall, lining surfaces in varnish and gesso, and then measuring, cutting, and folding various planes. Folding, a key process in the Egyptian Paintings (1979–81) and Locus (1972), addresses how forms can modify their shape while holding their physical integrity when their material is altered.

The Carbon Paper Installation elucidates the social, even participatory, aspects of Rockburne’s process. Based on a 1973 presentation at the Bykert Gallery in New York, the work offers a model for collective mark making. Residue accrues not only from the artist’s manipulation, but also from the materials’ impressions on one another, and viewers’ contact with the installation. For this iteration, Rockburne painted the walls and floors of the gallery in a brilliant white not intended to remain immaculate: fingerprints linger from the installation of the paper works, while the footprints of museum visitors will accumulate over time.

Dorothea Rockburne
  1. Sahura, 1980
    Conté crayon, pencil, oil, and gesso
    on linen
    Parrish Art Museum, Gift of
    PROP Foundation
  2. Golden Section Painting: Two Triangles and Rectangle, 1974
    Linen, gesso, glue, chalk, and varnish
    Courtesy the artist
  3. Golden Section Painting: Triangle, Small Square, 1974
    Linen, gesso, glue, chalk, and varnish
    Courtesy the artist
  4. Set, 1970/2018
    Paper, chipboard, graphite, and nails
    Edition 2/3
    Dia Art Foundation
  5. Intersection, 1971/2018
    No. 4 heating oil, plastic, paper,
    chipboard, and charcoal
    Edition 2/3
    Dia Art Foundation
  6. Domain of the Variable, 1972/2018
    Chipboard, contact cement, paper, grease, and charcoal
    Edition 2/3
    Dia Art Foundation
  7. Carbon Paper Installation: Gate, 1973/2018
    Carbon paper, pencil, and Conté crayon
    Courtesy the artist
  8. Carbon Paper Installation: Diamond Parallelogram, 1973/2018
    Carbon paper, pencil, and Conté crayon
    Courtesy the artist
  9. Carbon Paper Installation: M. G.’s Piece, 1973/2018
    Carbon paper, pencil, and Conté crayon
    Courtesy the artist

  10. Carbon Paper Installation: Hartford, 1973/2018
    Carbon paper, pencil, and Conté crayon
    Courtesy the artist
  11. Carbon Paper Installation: Whitney
    Piece
    , 1973/2018
    Carbon paper, pencil, and Conté crayon
    Courtesy the artist
  12. Carbon Paper Installation: Arc, 1973/2018
    Carbon paper, pencil, and Conté crayon
    Courtesy the artist
  13. Egyptian Painting: Sepa, 1980
    Conté crayon, pencil, oil, and gesso on linen
    Courtesy the artist
  14. Egyptian Painting: Stele, 1980
    Gesso, Conté crayon, oil, and contact cement on linen
    Courtesy the artist
  15. Egyptian Painting: Scribe, 1979
    Conté crayon, pencil, oil, and gesso on linen
    Courtesy the artist
  16. Egyptian Painting: Basalt, 1981
    Oil, glue, pencil, and gesso on linen
    Courtesy the artist
  17. Tropical Tan, 1967–68
    Wrinkle-finish paint on steel
    Courtesy the artist
  18. Locus, 1972
    Etching, aquatints, pencil, and oil on
    folded paper
    Edition 5/42
    Dia Art Foundation; Gift of the Dorothea Rockburne Foundation

Dorothea Rockburne was born in 1932 in Montreal, where she studied art and philosophy before attending Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina, from 1950 to 1954. While at Black Mountain, Rockburne met the mathematician Max Dehn, whose tutelage in concepts including harmonic intervals, topology, and set theory were deeply influential to her art practice. After moving to New York City in 1954, she became involved with the nascent Judson Dance Theater, and later participated in Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy (1964), among other notable performances. In the late 1960s Rockburne began exhibiting paintings made with industrial materials and creating drawings from crude oil and graphite applied to paper and chipboard. Her works based on set theory, what the artist refers to as “visual equations,” were first exhibited in New York in 1970. Later phases of Rockburne’s painting practice draw on ancient systems of proportion as well as astronomical phenomena. Her work has been featured in two solo exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1981 and 2013–14) and a major retrospective at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, New York (2011), which traveled to the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal. Rockburne resides in New York.

Dorothea Rockburne is made possible by significant support from COS and Someland Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Beth Rudin DeWoody, May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation; Kathy Fuld; Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; New York State Council on the Arts, a State agency; and Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, Inc.

Artist

Dorothea Rockburne

Dorothea Rockburne was born in Montréal in 1932. She lives and works in New York City.

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