Jennifer Bartlett - 20th Century & Contemporary Art New York Tuesday, July 18, 2023 | Phillips
  • Jennifer Bartlett’s Alphabet Eight, 1993, is a dazzling visual journey of bouncing colors at the intersection of art and mathematics. The work consists of 64 steel plates covered in irregular patterns formed by tiny dots of primary colors, plus one, 65th steel plate illustrated with a rabbit. The arrangement of the patterns creates a rigorously followed system wherein the forms and lines on each plate are perfectly aligned to their surroundings.

    “The thing that amazed me about the interior grid was that it opened the wall up instead of closing it down. It looks bigger than it really is. And I never figured out why.”
    —Jennifer Bartlett

    Bartlett’s output, while embracing the simplicity and purity of the minimalist aesthetic, is celebrated for its unconventionally subjective study of colors and forms. Alphabet Eight evokes Bartlett’s landmark painting Rhapsody (1975-76), which she described as “like a conversation, in which people digress from one thing and maybe come back to the subject, then do the same with the next thing.”


    After spending over 15 years exploring various media, such as oil painting and sculpture, the Alphabet series marks Bartlett’s return to the idiosyncratic steel plate technique that defines her early works. The Alphabet series consists of nine paintings, each made up by an ascending number of plates corresponding to the square number of its title; for example, as the eighth painting of the series, Alphabet Eight consists of 8 x 8 (64) plates. From painting to painting, through the exponential changes of sizes and patterns, Bartlett visualizes the shifting of alphabet, the essential component of all vocabulary as well as all conversations.


    Alphabet Eight alongside other works in the Alphabet series at Jennifer Bartlett: Alphabet, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, January 7 – 29, 1994.
    Image/Artwork: © Jennifer Bartlett. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York, and The Jennifer Bartlett 2013 Trust. Photo: Geoffrey Clements

    Each Alphabet painting features an additional plate with figurative elements reflecting Bartlett’s interrogation of the widely accepted categorizations of modern art: “That’s the only thing I could never figure out, what figurative meant,” she said. “If a painting is white with a red square in the center... It’s a red square. That is a thing. That is just as figurative to me as a blooming peony. I’ve never been able to make the distinction in my mind.” By integrating representational image into an abstract design, Alphabet Eight confronts existing categories and pushes the limits of traditional definitions of abstract and figurative art.



    i Jennifer Bartlett, quoted in Phong Bui, “Jennifer Bartlett with Phong Bui,” The Brooklyn Rail, Jul./Aug. 2011, online.

    ii Bartlett, quoted in Elizabeth Murray, “Jennifer Bartlett’s interviewed by Elizabeth Murray,” BOMB Magazine, Oct. 2005, online.

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Paula Cooper Gallery, Jennifer Bartlett: Alphabet, January 7–29, 1994
      Chicago, Russell Bowman Fine Art, System/Repetition, September 6–October 26, 2013
      New York, 125 Newbury, Bartlett/Jensen/Judd: No Illusions, February 10–April 1, 2023, p. 25 (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Roberta Smith, "Jennifer Bartlett," The New York Times, January 1, 1994, p. C21


Alphabet Eight

Testor’s enamel, baked enamel and silkscreen on steel plate, in 65 parts
each 12 x 12 in. (30.5 x 30.5 cm)
installed 116 x 103 in. (294.6 x 261.6 cm)

Executed in 1993.

Full Cataloguing

$100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for $107,950

Contact Specialist

Nina Piro
Specialist, Associate Vice President

20th Century & Contemporary Art

New York Auction 18 July 2023