George Ortman “Constructions/Works on Paper: 1949-2013”

Mitchell Algus Gallery

poster for George Ortman “Constructions/Works on Paper: 1949-2013”
[Image: George Ortman "Omen" (1962) oil, canvas collage and wood on masonite, 23 x 69 x 8 in.]

This event has ended.

The Mitchell Algus Gallery presents an exhibition of constructions and works on paper by George Ortman (1926-2015).

The current exhibition, the first since the artist’s death in 2015 and timed to coincide with the Museum of Modern Art’s Donald Judd retrospective, is built around four of Ortman’s masterpieces from the late 1950s and early 1960s: Stages of Life, 1956; Tales of Love, 1959; Peace II, 1961; and Omen, 1962. The show also includes works on paper highlighting the artist’s extraordinary draftsmanship with early etchings done at Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17 in New York in 1949, pencil drawings analyzing the structure of paintings by Uccello, Gauguin and Matisse which the artist used in creating abstract compositions, and late drawings made conflating the work of Bosch, Gaudí, and Miró. George Ortman remained a prolific and intensely inquisitive artist throughout his life. His work has always widely engaged the culture at large, touching on philosophy, architecture, art history and theater. (In the early 1950s Ortman was involved with the Tempo Playhouse in New York which introduced works by Genet and Ionesco, among others in the “Theater of the Absurd.”)

Donald Judd considered George Ortman an important precursor to minimal art (though Judd avoided that term). Ortman’s construction, Stages of Life (1956) in the current exhibition, is illustrated in Judd’s “Specific Objects” essay of 1965 where he (Judd) defines specific objects where “[t]he work of Johns and Rauschenberg and assemblage and low-relief generally, Ortman’s reliefs for example, are preliminaries.”

Over time, George Ortman’s work has come to be seen through the lens of Donald Judd, as both precursor and influence. Yet Ortman’s work has always been more complex than this approach suggests, and viewing it solely from this perspective misrepresents Ortman’s art. Judd himself understood this, taking issue with Ortman’s formal transgressions as early as 1963 (“Towards a New Abstraction,” Arts Magazine, Sept. 1963). As outlined in an insightful essay on Ortman by Adam Dunlavy[1] such a perspective limits an understanding of his art: “Ortman’s work had been called Surrealist, neo-Dada, Assemblage, Pop, Abstract Imagist, Hard-edge, and Minimalist. Each critic emphasized a different aspect of the work, and Ortman himself accepted all interpretations…This open-ended approach flew in the face of the New York art world’s expectations for art in the 1960s.”[1]

Scheduling this exhibition to coincide with MoMA’s Donald Judd show provides an opportunity not only to reexamine Ortman’s work as viewed through the lens of Donald Judd, but also to do the reverse and view Donald Judd’s work through the lens of George Ortman.




from February 29, 2020 to October 04, 2020
Hours: Fridays and Saturdays, 12–6 pm.

Opening Reception on 2020-02-29 from 18:00 to 20:00


George Ortman

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