The group exhibition Playground Structure takes its title from a 2008 photograph by Jeff Wall that depicts a climbing frame in a suburban park. The climbing frame is an invitation to play, and yet it also resembles an anonymous public artwork that might bring to mind a modernist grid or a constructivist sculpture. In the exhibition, Wall’s large-scale photograph will be exhibited with paintings from 1969 to the present day by Amy Feldman (Image below: ), Mary Heilmann, Rachel Howard, Jeremy Moon, Ed Moses, Joan Snyder, Daniel Sturgis and Dan Walsh. The exhibition invites viewers to imagine each painting as an open-ended ‘playground structure’, reconceiving the grid as a utopian space of freedom.
The modernist grid has exerted an inescapable influence on minimalism, conceptual art and painting for over a century. In her influential essay Grids (1979), Rosalind Krauss argued that artists used the grid in the early twentieth century to signal an absolute break from the past, and that it occupied a ‘schizophrenic’ position that could be either materialist or spiritual. In this sense, abstract art is usually in a literal or a tragic mode. But what if the grid, and its rigidly straight lines, were reimagined as the boundaries of a game, a space of ritual and repetition – or subjected to natural forces, such as gravity, or decay? What if, in the wake of modernism’s demise, the grid became not an ideal structure or a portal to an otherworldly realm, but a climbing frame for the eyes and mind, an open-ended space where the viewer’s imagination could play and improvise?
Untitled (1969), an important ‘stroke’ painting by Joan Snyder, is emblematic of many ideas pertinent to the artists in Playground Structure. Using a loose grid to organise the painting, Snyder introduced a sense of openness and sensuality, with seemingly relaxed strokes and lines, yet with colours and a composition that combine to resist any easy harmony. Snyder infuses the grid with the imperfections of the body, offering a riposte to its supposedly idealised form. The body is also an implicit presence in the paintings of Jeremy Moon (1934-73). Dance was an important early influence on the artist, and that kinaesthetic dynamism is palpable in his painting No 1 / 70 (1970), exhibited here for the first time, along with the bristling energy of Ice Palace (1970). Among Ed Moses’s earliest works were architectural drawings, and that organisational structure is evident in this ‘wedge’ paintings from the early 1970s. But the geometric forms in the works exhibited here are counterbalanced by layers of translucent colour, with small pools and drips of interacting cool and warm hues that imbue the jagged lines with unpredictability and impish freedom.
The paintings of Daniel Sturgis, such as Just Enough or Care for Yourself (both 2017), propose a space where the forces of rigid order and slapstick comedy are in a perpetual battle. Resolutely two-dimensional, there is the paradoxical implication of gravity, with small spheres seemingly rolling through the space. Dan Walsh’s paintings such as Flight (Image above, 2016) or Circus (both 2016) create structures of hard-edged ebullience, where symmetry and order wrestle with the sensual delight of the rounded forms and colours. The canvases of both Walsh and Sturgis appear like diagrams of a mind at play, while at the same time their work assesses, critcally, the nature and limits of abstraction. Mary Heilmann, for whom the grid has been a constant goad and reference throughout almost five decades of painting, here exhibits Pink Synergie (2011): small and faintly cross-like, its delicate pink surface offers a counterforce to its bold geometry. Rachel Howard’s work also expresses a balance of forces. In Broken Grid Theory (2017), for instance, a faint grid gives the painting a structure, but the artist subjects its lines to dilutions and scrapings, introducing an air of entropy. Layers of translucent colour and bedraggled lines suggest duration, as if the painting was in a state of perpetual becoming. The paintings of Amy Feldman are expansive and playful, with the canvas itself an implicit grid where the artist can test the limits of her body. Feldman takes each painting as a space to climb, to take risks, where a mood of ecstasy and voluptuousness is balanced with dextrous control and a palette of sombre greys.
Playground Structure draws upon the history of serious play in Western philosophy and culture, a crucial idea in books such as Friedrich Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Man (1794), Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens (1938) and Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Truth and Method (1960) as well as the writings of Roger Caillois. The exhibition developed from conversations between Craig Burnett and the painter Daniel Sturgis.