Dorothea Rockburne “Giotto’s Angels and Knots”

David Nolan Gallery

poster for Dorothea Rockburne “Giotto’s Angels and Knots”
[Image: Dorothea Rockburne "Trefoil 5" (2021) enamel paint, graphite, and copper wire on layered boards 30 x 47 x 1 1/2 in.]
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Ends in 22 days

David Nolan Gallery presents the gallery’s first solo exhibition with Dorothea Rockburne. Giotto’s Angels and Knots.
In her essay for the exhibition catalogue, Phyllis Tuchman writes:

“Dorothea Rockburne has been at the top of her game for half a century. Ever since her first solo show at the Bykert Gallery in 1970, she’s made art that’s inventive, provocative, confident, seductive, imaginative. She’s worked with materials as disparate as crude oil and gold leaf, chipboard and vellum, secco fresco and sign painters enamel paint. She’s created shaped canvases; constructed lines with colored pencil and copper wire and folded paper; and made work in sizes that are as small as 4-inches-by-6-inches and as grand as 35-square-feet overall. Just when you become captivated by her sense of color, you discover an exquisite group of all-white works. Her versatility is astounding. In the end, there is no such thing as a typical Rockburne. When you say her name, it evokes different examples of her art to different people.

Now, for her debut solo show at David Nolan Gallery, Rockburne has confounded her admirers yet again. As she turns 89, you would expect her paintings and works on paper to express an old master style. Instead, she has introduced four new bodies of work that reveal, deep down, she’s still young at heart. Trefoil, Giotto Drawings, Blue Collages, and two freestanding sculptures are every bit as adventuresome, exploratory, and surprising, if not more so, than earlier series.”

The exhibition explores Rockburne’s fascination with Giotto: “Since my early days in New York City, 1954, the paintings by Giotto in the Arena Chapel in Padua, known to me at that time only through books, have served me as a beacon of emotional truth and painterly courage”, Rockburne explains. Some twenty years later, Rockburne would visit the chapel for the first time, further invigorating her practice and deepening her reverence for the sacred space. Restaging this formative experience, Rockburne masks the architectural details of the gallery space to create an immersive lapis lazuli chapel of her own, asserting her status as a master in her own right. Housed in this ultramarine installation are new series: the Giotto Drawings, the Angels and the Blue Collages, favoring contained artworks rather than the murals of the Scrovegni Chapel applied directly to the foundation. Rockburne seeks to evoke the emotional gravitas of the narrative frescoes through the geometry of circles, squiggles and drips. The works radiate with movement and energy, suggested dynamic action via gesture, angels taking flight.

The Trefoil series expands upon Rockburne’s continued interest in knot theory, which she first encountered in Black Mountain College in 1950. So named for the ‘Trefoil knot’, these works are comprised of two elements: rectangular boards and copper wire circles. Arranged in various permutations, concentric circles disappear and reappear, emphasizing the joints that bind the knot which cannot be untied. Like the continuous nature of the knot itself, the series feels unending as Rockburne emphasizes the vast potential of its moving parts: oscillating between slick and matte surfaces, establishing and breaking compositional hierarchies between layered board and wire, and juxtaposing natural hues with vibrant bursts of insurgent color.

As Phyllis Tuchman concludes:

“Perhaps the biggest surprise of this solo show is that after decades making artworks, Rockburne has executed her first sculptures. The materials could not be more unorthodox: thick ropes, a galvanized steel bucket filled to its brim with water, another topped with a mirror, two bentwood chairs, automobile tires, clamps, and castors. They are found objects, the sort of things, though, that can, for the most part, be ordered from Amazon. They are hardly the type of cumbersome items you expect Rockburne to use to make art. But that’s part of the power of her corpus. She has put together in all sorts of combinations, stuff you might never associate with the practice of fine art. Before you put down this catalogue, look again at the ropes. They are trefoil knots.”

With unparalleled commitment and vigor, Rockburne continues to forge ahead and experiment, challenging both herself and the viewer in the process. While her ingenuity and inventiveness are on full display, she remains motivated by the very same forces that captivated her youthful artistic spirit decades ago. In an ever-changing world rife with chaos, Rockburne optimistically looks to the cosmos, the spiritual unseen but felt, to rectify all that we cannot explain.



from October 15, 2021 to December 23, 2021

Opening Reception on 2021-10-15 from 17:00 to 19:00

Website (venue's website)



Venue Hours

From 10:00 To 18:00
saturdays opening at 11:00, saturday closing at 17:00
Closed on Mondays, Sundays


Address: 24 E 81st St., New York, NY 10028
Phone: 212-925-6190 Fax: 212-334-9139

Between Madison and 5th Ave. Subway: 6 to 77th Street.

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