David Zwirner is pleased to announce an exhibition by American artist Merrill Wagner (b. 1935) at the gallery’s 34 East 69th Street location in New York. Bringing together compositions on a variety of conventional and unconventional supports—ranging from canvas and paper to slate and stone to Plexiglas and steel—from throughout her career, the exhibition will provide an overview of Wagner’s expansive approach to abstraction and painting. This will be the artist’s first presentation at the gallery since the announcement of her representation in 2021.
In its emphasis on the materiality and mutability of paint, Wagner’s inventive work elides the categories of painting, relief, sculpture, and installation. Emerging in the 1960s, at a time when minimalism and post-minimalism had superseded abstract expressionism as the dominant aesthetic idioms, Wagner both eschewed and embraced their primary concerns, creating rigorous, hard-edged abstract compositions that subtly referenced landscape. By the mid-1970s, Wagner largely moved away from canvas and looked to nontraditional supports as surfaces for color. These alternative media interested Wagner because of not only their textural appearance but also their allusions to the natural world—resonating with her upbringing in the Pacific Northwest—as well as their inherent connection to process and chance. By integrating the support within the compositional logic of her works, ordering and joining fragments by adding exquisitely considered painted elements—first in geometric formations and later in colorful, allover compositions—Wagner poetically mediates between the natural and the constructed. As curator Robert Storr has described, “Wagner, materialist, formalist, empiricist, and poet of the given and the accidental as well as of the systematically altered, is, in this every respect, an all-American artist to the core.”1
1 Robert Storr, “Matters of Fact and of Vision,” in Merrill Wagner. Exh. cat. (New York: New York Studio School, 2016), p. 20.
Image: Merrill Wagner, Untitled, 1966