David Zwirner is pleased to announce an exhibition of works by Al Taylor at the gallery’s Hong Kong location, the first presentation of the visionary American artist in Asia. Spanning the mid-1970s through the late 1980s, the works on view will demonstrate Taylor’s transition from painting on canvas to making the three dimensional constructions for which he became known. Moving fluidly between media, Taylor ultimately sought to expand the possibilities of vision in his search for new ways of experiencing and imagining space. His multi-layered investigations of perception provide the viewer with insight into the artist’s idiosyncratic thinking, his methodology, and his playful sense of humor. The exhibition will focus in particular on his canny use of color across media to connect and visually underscore the formal elements of his work.
Although he is more widely known for the three-dimensional works he started making in 1985, Taylor insisted throughout his career that he was a painter—not a sculptor—and maintained that his constructions did not “come from any sculptural concerns. [They come] from a flatter set of traditions.”1 As he wrote, though he moved away from painting in a traditional sense, the perspectival effects made possible by the medium continued to inform his practice: “What I am really after is finding a way to make a group of drawings that you can look around. Like a pool player, I want to have all the angles covered.”2
On view will be a selection of Taylor’s early paintings, which unite abstract compositions with narrative undertones implied by the juxtaposition of formal elements. While they subtly embody reduction and restraint, these works resist stasis with their hints of idiosyncratic playfulness. Borrowing from disparate movements and styles, the artist’s carefully composed paintings do not fit within any one category, but rather manifest a productive tension between flatness and depth, as well as figuration and abstraction that is wholly Taylor’s own. Particularly in later examples, the artist focused more intently on bold color juxtapositions and playful imagery to delineate space and activate the canvas. Both painterly and sculptural, these works possess a fluid rhythm that opens up multiple perspectives.
Also included are examples from Taylor’s Swahili Time series (1981–1983), a group of compositions made following a 1980 trip to Africa. These works are comprised of multiple individual paintings on newsprint, which he arranged in irregular circular formats, and then collaged onto painted wooden supports. The boldly colored abstract imagery in these works suggests parts of a broken alphabet, or disjointed segments of a primitive clock that subliminally infers the movement of time. Through these associations, Taylor characteristically explores multidimensional space and fluid linear motion to open up the boundaries of the pictorial plane.
Taylor’s sculptures, which he thought of as “tools for vision,” were usually fashioned out of unconventional materials, often employing humble and sometimes humorous elements. The exhibition will include examples from Taylor’s Latin Studies series, which marked the artist’s transition from painting on canvas to creating his first three-dimensional objects. While working in tandem on paintings and drawings from the series during 1984, Taylor began to make related configurations out of carpentry scraps that literally extended the picture plane out from the wall. Completed in 1985, the unfolding configurations of planar and linear layers in these early assemblages develop the ideas that would preoccupy Taylor in the ensuing decades of his career.
The exhibition will also feature several sculptures from Taylor’s Broomsticks series, a group of works spanning from 1986 to 1992 that incorporate segments of colorful wooden broomsticks the artist had scavenged from the street trash in New York City. These assemblages engage the phenomenological as well as the perceptual experience of the viewer as they vacillate between two and three dimensions with their exploration of line, shadow, and perspective.
Presented in dialogue with each other, the works included in Playing with Color show Taylor’s consistent and unwavering experimental freedom and sense of play with color, form, and medium.
Al Taylor (1948–1999) was born in Springfield, Missouri, and received a B.F.A. from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1970. He moved to New York later that year, where he would continue to live and work until his death, in 1999. His first solo exhibition took place in 1986 at the Alfred Kren Gallery in New York. His work would go on to be shown in numerous exhibitions in America and Europe, including solo exhibitions at the Kunsthalle Bern (1992) and the Kunstmuseum Luzern (1999), both in Switzerland.
A retrospective of Taylor’s drawings was organized posthumously by the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung at the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, in 2006. A retrospective of the artist’s prints opened at the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, in September 2010, and traveled to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark, in Spring 2011. The Santa Monica Museum of Art, California, presented a focused overview of two bodies of work by the artist, Wire Instruments and Pet Stain Removal Devices, in 2011. In 2013, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta mounted the exhibition Drawing Instruments: Al Taylor’s Bat Parts and Endcuts. In 2014, The Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, presented Six Panels: Al Taylor, curated by Robert Storr. A major survey of the artist’s work was presented at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta in 2017–2018. The Drawings of Al Taylor was on view at The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, in 2020.
Work by the artist is represented in a number of prominent public collections, including the British Museum, London; Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, among others.
The Estate of Al Taylor has been represented by David Zwirner since 2007. This is the eighth solo presentation of Taylor’s work at the gallery.
1 Al Taylor, unpublished artist’s statement, July 1990.
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