The Way We Were

Bartlett pushes Photo Realism toward photo appropriation, the exuberance of her paint handling anticipates Neo-Expressionism, her geometry hints at Neo-Geo, and her formalism is already breaking apart. Rhapsody announces the Post-Post-Minimal period with a bang. But there was something deeply wrong with Rhapsody—as well as with the work of many of Bartlett's generation—even if no one knew it yet. Bartlett was like Gorbachev: initially ahead of her time, she was on the right track but couldn't move fast enough because she couldn't discard her old pluralist baggage.

Bartlett made the grid irrational and inexplicable: Rhapsody (detail, 1976) installed at Robert Miller.
Robin Holland
Bartlett made the grid irrational and inexplicable: Rhapsody (detail, 1976) installed at Robert Miller.


Jennifer Bartlett
Robert Miller Gallery
41 East 57th Street
Through March 6

In 1976, the trouble with the American art world was that it was too American. There were no Germans. Polke and Richter didn't appear on American art-world screens for four more years, and they had already settled the main "problem" many Americans were working on: the reconciliation of abstraction and figuration. America still took (and in some provincial Manhattan circles, still takes) abstraction seriously. Bartlett and her peers were leading painting down a cogent, but marginal, blind alley. This was the trap that tricked a generation, and Bartlett wasn't spared. It's what makes her work seem like it's been going around in decorative, dialectical circles ever since. In her recent work at Miller, Bartlett is still recycling the same imagery in work that looks more like it comes from Ikea than an artist's studio. Nineteen seventy-six was the last moment that America had the stage to itself, the last time we were the real center. We thought we were ahead of the game. Soon we would see that there was a whole new game.

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