A painting by Merrill Wagner, called Untitled, dated 1966

Merrill Wagner

David Zwirner is pleased to announce an exhibition by American artist Merrill Wagner at the gallery’s 34 East 69th Street location in New York. Bringing together works from throughout her career on a variety of conventional and unconventional supports—ranging from canvas and paper to slate, stone, steel, and Plexiglas—the presentation will provide an overview of Wagner’s expansive approach to abstraction and painting. This will be the artist’s first exhibition 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 Emerging in the 1960s, at a time when minimalism and post-minimalism had superseded abstract expressionism as the dominant aesthetic idioms, Wagner both eschewed and embraced their primary concerns, creating rigorous, hard-edged abstract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

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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

Dates
September 15October 22, 2022
Gallery Hours
Tues—Sat 10am-6pm
Installation view, Merrill Wagner, David Zwirner, New York, dated 2022

Installation view, Merrill Wagner, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Merrill Wagner, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Since the 1960s, American artist Merrill Wagner has created a distinctive body of work that elides the categories of painting, relief, sculpture, and installation.

Bringing together works from throughout her career on a variety of conventional and unconventional supports—ranging from canvas and paper to slate, stone, steel, and Plexiglas—Merrill Wagner provides an overview of the artist’s expansive approach to abstraction and painting.

A photograph of Merrill Wagner with Untitled (1967), circa 1960s. copright Merrill Wagner Studio

Merrill Wagner with Untitled (1967), c. 1960s. © Merrill Wagner Studio

Merrill Wagner with Untitled (1967), c. 1960s. © Merrill Wagner Studio

A two-part painting by Merrill Wagner, titled Watch, dated 1992.

Merrill Wagner

Watch, 1992
Rust preventive paint on steel in two (2) parts
97 1/2 x 96 3/8 inches (247.7 x 244.8 cm)
A detail of a painting by Merrill Wagner titled Watch, dated 1992

Merrill Wagner, Watch, 1992 (detail)

Merrill Wagner, Watch, 1992 (detail)

Emerging in the 1960s, at a time when minimalism and post-minimalism had superseded abstract expressionism and become the dominant aesthetic idioms, Wagner both eschewed and embraced their primary concerns, creating rigorous, hard-edged abstract compositions that subtly referenced landscape.

A painting by Merrill Wagner, titled Olden Street, dated 1988.

Merrill Wagner

Olden Street, 1988
Oil on steel in two (2) parts
48 3/8 x 48 3/4 inches (122.9 x 123.8 cm)

By the mid-1970s, Wagner had largely moved away from canvas and looked to nontraditional supports as surfaces for color. These alternative media interested Wagner not only because of their textural appearance, but also their allusions to the natural world—resonating with her because of her upbringing in the Pacific Northwest—and their inherent connection to process and chance. 

An untitled painting by Merrill Wagner, dated 1994.

Merrill Wagner

Untitled, 1994
Rust preventive paint on steel
48 1/2 x 48 3/4 inches (123.2 x 123.8 cm)
A photograph os Merrill Wagner’s studio in Philadelphia, dated 2003. Copyright Merrill Wagner Studio

Merrill Wagner’s studio in Pennsylvania, 2003. © Merrill Wagner Studio

Merrill Wagner’s studio in Pennsylvania, 2003. © Merrill Wagner Studio

Wagner’s investigation into the creative possibilities of using found and non-traditional materials was further spurred when she received a large quantity of slate chalkboards and fragments that had been removed during the renovation of P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, New York. While the artist had previously used slate as a support for her paintings, with this donation, slate became the artist’s primary focus during the late 1970s and 1980s. 

Copyright Merrill Wagner Studio

© Merrill Wagner Studio

© Merrill Wagner Studio

“Her objects—broken slate pieces, used or new metal sheets, or discarded junk—embodied her interest in nature, the process of chance, and an insistence on the real.”

—Tiffany Bell, curator and art critic

A sculpture by Merrill Wagner, titled Outerbridge Crossing, dated 1986.

Merrill Wagner

Outerbridge Crossing, 1986
Acrylic and watercolor on slate in four (4) parts
72 7/8 x 66 1/8 inches (185 x 168 cm)

Standing six feet tall and almost as wide, Outerbridge Crossing (1986) is an impressive example from this body of work; the monumental slate sculpture reads at once as a mountain range, a seascape, a quarry, and a horizon line. Composed of rectangular planks of varying size as well as a small curved fragment, the geometry of the work is further accentuated by vertical bands of blue paint.

The undulating form of this work, which takes its name from the bridge that spans between New York’s Staten Island and New Jersey, is ultimately reminiscent of both the structure itself and the body of water across which it stretches.

An installation view, Merrill Wagner, New York Studio School, dated 2016

Installation view, Merrill Wagner, New York Studio School, 2016

Installation view, Merrill Wagner, New York Studio School, 2016

An installation view, Merrill Wagner, New York Studio School, dated 2016

Installation view, Merrill Wagner, New York Studio School, 2016

Installation view, Merrill Wagner, New York Studio School, 2016

An untitled painting by Merrill Wagner, dated 1979.

Merrill Wagner

Untitled, 1979
Markal oil stick on tape and Plexiglas in two (2) parts
63 x 127 inches (160 x 322.6 cm)

Wagner also began to use tape, which she had previously included as a minor component in some works, as a primary element in her compositions. Rendered on Plexiglas or paper, and enhanced with pencil, oil paint, or pastel, the tape works on view retain Wagner’s earlier emphasis on form but represent an important evolution in her practice wherein process and form become intrinsically linked and the transient nature of her material is revealed.

A detail of a painting by Merrill Wagner called Untitled, dated 1979

Merrill Wagner, Untitled, 1979 (detail)

Merrill Wagner, Untitled, 1979 (detail)

An image of Merrill Wagner in her studio in Philadelphia, dated 2003. Copyright Merrill Wagner Studio

Merrill Wagner in her studio in Pennsylvania, 2003. © Merrill Wagner Studio

Merrill Wagner in her studio in Pennsylvania, 2003. © Merrill Wagner Studio

An untitled work on paper by Merrill Wagner, dated 1975.

Merrill Wagner

Untitled, 1975
Masking tape and pencil on paper
11 x 14 inches (27.9 x 35.6 cm)
Framed: 13 1/4 x 16 1/4 inches (33.7 x 41.3 cm)
An untitled work on paper by Merrill Wagner, dated 1975.

Merrill Wagner

Untitled, 1975
Masking tape and pencil on paper
14 x 11 inches (35.6 x 27.9 cm)
Framed: 16 1/4 x 13 1/4 inches (41.3 x 33.7 cm)
An untitled work on paper by Merrill Wagner, dated 1977.

Merrill Wagner

Untitled, 1977
White tape and pencil on paper
11 x 14 inches (27.9 x 35.6 cm)
Framed: 13 1/4 x 16 1/4 inches (33.7 x 41.3 cm)
"An Installation view, Merrill Wagner, David Zwirner, New York, dated 2022

Installation view, Merrill Wagner, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Merrill Wagner, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

The earliest work in the exhibition, Untitled (1966), was created shortly after Wagner graduated from The Art Students League of New York, where she trained under figurative painters Edwin Dickinson, George Grosz, and Julian E. Levi from 1959 until 1963. A study of color and form, this monochromatic, hard-edge painting features a large red circle delineated with a thin, curving line of white and set against a vermillion ground.

An untitled painting by Merrill Wagner, dated 1966.

Merrill Wagner

Untitled, 1966
Acrylic on linen
72 x 72 inches (182.9 x 182.9 cm)

Extending her interests in process, chance, and the transformational effects of time, Wagner has also created a number of outdoor, site-specific interventions in unassuming locations, such as on fences and rock outcroppings. She leaves these works unprotected from the elements, to fade over a long period of time, and documents their changes in photographs.

A photograph of Merrill Wagner in the studio, circa 1974. Copyright Merrill Wagner Studio

Merrill Wagner in the studio, c. 1974. © Merrill Wagner Studio

Merrill Wagner in the studio, c. 1974. © Merrill Wagner Studio

“Wagner exposes her work to the elements and the effects of time, effectively ensuring its demise. On one level, she enables time and weather to diminish the material presence of the painting, in effect wear it away. This simple, straightforward act underscores what we all know to be true but often ignore: nothing lasts, not even art.”

—John Yau, poet, art critic, and curator

A photograph by Merrill Wagner, titled Blue, Summer Studio 1985-2003, dated 2017.

Merrill Wagner

Blue, Summer Studio 1985-2003, 2017
Suite of six (6) digital chromogenic prints mounted on Plexiglas
Sheet, each: 24 x 16 inches (61 x 40.5 cm)
Framed, each: 24 3/4 x 16 3/4 inches (62.9 x 42.5 cm)

In the suite of images entitled Blue, Summer Studio 1985–2003 (2017), Wagner details the transformation of a wooden fence on her property in Tacoma, Washington—which she and her family returned to every summer during that period—onto which she painted squares in varying shades of blue in an eight-by-eight grid, with an additional row and column of rectangles.

Over the course of the photographs—and eighteen years—the foliage around the fence grows, small red apples appear dangling from branches, the grass yellows and turns green again, the fence itself deteriorates, and the blue squares fade at differing rates. As much about the evolution of the surrounding landscape as it is about the artist’s painted intervention, this photographic suite of Wagner’s makes visible the passage of time.

An untitled drawing by Merrill Wagner, dated 1995.

Merrill Wagner

Untitled, 1995
Graphite and conté crayon on marble and stone
6 1/2 x 10 1/2 inches (16.5 x 26.7 cm)

Examples of Wagner’s stone paintings will also be on view. Untitled (1995) is a small wall work comprising a piece of marble placed next to an irregularly shaped, dark gray stone. Crooked Strait (1995) is a meandering, floor-based work composed of eight pieces of stone, fit together and connected by a line of oil pastel that runs straight through each fragment. With these works, Wagner responds intuitively to the color, form, and size of her chosen stones, adding graphic lines in oil pastel or broad swaths of paint. 

A drawing by Merrill Wagner, titled Crooked Strait, dated 1995.

Merrill Wagner

Crooked Strait, 1995
Oil pastel on stone in eight (8) parts
110 x 27 1/2 x 1 7/8 inches (279.4 x 69.8 x 4.8 cm)
Dimensions variable

By integrating the support within the compositional logic of her works, and 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.

A photograph of Merrill Wagner in the studio, circa 1974. copyright Merrill Wagner Studio

“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.”

—Robert Storr, curator

Installation view, Merrill Wagner, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Merrill Wagner, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Merrill Wagner, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Inquire about works by Merrill Wagner

A two-part painting by Merrill Wagner, titled Watch, dated 1992.

Merrill Wagner

Watch, 1992
Rust preventive paint on steel in two (2) parts
97 1/2 x 96 3/8 inches (247.7 x 244.8 cm)
A painting by Merrill Wagner, titled Olden Street, dated 1988.

Merrill Wagner

Olden Street, 1988
Oil on steel in two (2) parts
48 3/8 x 48 3/4 inches (122.9 x 123.8 cm)
An untitled painting by Merrill Wagner, dated 1994.

Merrill Wagner

Untitled, 1994
Rust preventive paint on steel
48 1/2 x 48 3/4 inches (123.2 x 123.8 cm)
A sculpture by Merrill Wagner, titled Outerbridge Crossing, dated 1986.

Merrill Wagner

Outerbridge Crossing, 1986
Acrylic and watercolor on slate in four (4) parts
72 7/8 x 66 1/8 inches (185 x 168 cm)
An untitled painting by Merrill Wagner, dated 1979.

Merrill Wagner

Untitled, 1979
Markal oil stick on tape and Plexiglas in two (2) parts
63 x 127 inches (160 x 322.6 cm)
An untitled work on paper by Merrill Wagner, dated 1975.

Merrill Wagner

Untitled, 1975
Masking tape and pencil on paper
11 x 14 inches (27.9 x 35.6 cm)
Framed: 13 1/4 x 16 1/4 inches (33.7 x 41.3 cm)
An untitled work on paper by Merrill Wagner, dated 1975.

Merrill Wagner

Untitled, 1975
Masking tape and pencil on paper
14 x 11 inches (35.6 x 27.9 cm)
Framed: 16 1/4 x 13 1/4 inches (41.3 x 33.7 cm)
An untitled work on paper by Merrill Wagner, dated 1977.

Merrill Wagner

Untitled, 1977
White tape and pencil on paper
11 x 14 inches (27.9 x 35.6 cm)
Framed: 13 1/4 x 16 1/4 inches (33.7 x 41.3 cm)
An untitled painting by Merrill Wagner, dated 1966.

Merrill Wagner

Untitled, 1966
Acrylic on linen
72 x 72 inches (182.9 x 182.9 cm)
A painting on steel by Merrill Wagner, titled Red Circle, dated 1990.

Merrill Wagner

Red Circle, 1990
Rust preventive paint on steel
Diameter: 27 1/2 inches (69.8 cm)
A photograph by Merrill Wagner, titled Blue, Summer Studio 1985-2003, dated 2017.

Merrill Wagner

Blue, Summer Studio 1985-2003, 2017
Suite of six (6) digital chromogenic prints mounted on Plexiglas
Sheet, each: 24 x 16 inches (61 x 40.5 cm)
Framed, each: 24 3/4 x 16 3/4 inches (62.9 x 42.5 cm)
An untitled drawing by Merrill Wagner, dated 1995.

Merrill Wagner

Untitled, 1995
Graphite and conté crayon on marble and stone
6 1/2 x 10 1/2 inches (16.5 x 26.7 cm)
A drawing by Merrill Wagner, titled Crooked Strait, dated 1995.

Merrill Wagner

Crooked Strait, 1995
Oil pastel on stone in eight (8) parts
110 x 27 1/2 x 1 7/8 inches (279.4 x 69.8 x 4.8 cm)
Dimensions variable
An untitled 4-part painting on steel by Merrill Wagner, dated 2009.

Merrill Wagner

Untitled, 2009
Rust preventative paint on steel in four (4) parts
27 3/4 x 7 1/8 inches (70.5 x 18.1 cm)

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