Kenneth Noland - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 16, 2017 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    ACA Galleries, New York
    Allan Stone Gallery, New York
    Irwin and Bethea Green, Michigan
    Their sale, Christie's, New York, November 18, 1997, lot 101
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    “The representation I'm interested in is of those things only the eye can touch." – Kenneth Noland

    Executed in 1959, Untitled is an outstanding example of Kenneth Noland’s iconic series of targets that would catapult him to critical acclaim as one of the pioneers of Color Field Painting and Hard-edge Abstraction. Beautifully demonstrating Noland’s over five-decade long pursuit exploring the possibilities of pure color, in Untitled, concentric rings emanate from the center of the perfectly square canvas to engulf the viewer in a weightless, glowing chromatic field that appears to expand beyond the canvas edges with a palpable velocity. The bold oppositions of the yellow, orange, blue and green irregular circles are softened by Noland’s precise staining technique, the premeditated result of methodically soaking and staining his unprimed canvas with diluted oil paint. While demonstrating the loose freehand staining technique so characteristic of the 1958-1960 period, Untitled is distinct for the way in which it anticipates many key elements of Noland’s later concentric circles that he would create until 1963: the gradual elimination of painterly gesture, a more compact and smaller center dot or “eye” and covering the entirety of the square surface with the concentric circle configuration. With Untitled, Noland notably painted in the side and corners of the canvas with green paint to achieve a greater degree of pictorial unity and more glowing color statement thereby essentially foreshadowing a practice he would more fully embrace in 1961. As such, Untitled underlines how Noland, as eminent curator Kenworth Moffett affirmed, “is one of the most inventive colorists in all of modern art – perhaps one should dare to say in the history of art – and the need to give his color full expression is the main impetus behind his development” (Kenworth Moffett, Kenneth Noland, New York, 1979, p. 56).

    Untitled was executed the same year that this series was debuted at the artist’s solo exhibition at the gallery French and Company in 1959. Art critic Clement Greenberg, who as advisor to the New York gallery worked closely with Noland to curate the show, praised this pictorial innovation: “Noland’s motifs do not possess the quality of images; they are present solely in an abstract capacity, as means solely of organizing and galvanizing the picture field. Thanks to their centeredness and their symmetry, the discs…create a revolving movement that spins out…beyond the four sides of the picture to evoke, once again, limitless space, weightlessness, air” (Clement Greenberg, “Louis and Noland”, Art International, no. 4, May 25, 1960, in John O’Brian, Clement Greenberg, The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 4, Modernism with a Vengeance, Chicago, 1993, p. 98). Untitled is testament to the artistic breakthrough Noland achieved in 1958 with his discovery of the centered “target” composition after a long, almost four year, period of experimentation. It was while walking in circles around the periphery of his canvas, laid on the floor of his studio in Washington D.C., that Noland reached his epiphany. While the work of Josef Albers, Noland’s Black Mountain College mentor, was an important precedent, Noland largely drew on the artistic legacy of Jackson Pollock: “Pollock was my biggest influence. After that allover painting that covers the whole surface, the only thing to do would be to focus from the center out – it is the logical extension – almost an inevitable result” (Kenneth Noland, quoted in “Hitting the Bullseye”, Newsweek, vol. LIX, no. 16, April 16, 1962, p. 108). Breaking with the all-over compositions of Abstract Expressionism, Noland’s embrace of the concentric circle motif and the square canvas format enabled him to eliminate any structural considerations: its predetermined layout engendered a degree of seriality whereby formal decisions were reduced to questions of proportion, interval and hue. In turn, the symmetry of the circle counteracted compositional hierarchies – in the absence of any up or down, right or left orientation, differences in band width or hue changes are primarily read as color rather than in terms of compositional emphasis. Embracing a distinct staining technique, Noland endowed his canvases with a revolutionary degree of unity.

    Noland’s distilled approach to abstraction would later prompt Greenberg to coin the term of “Post-Painterly Abstraction” in 1964 in reference to Noland, but also Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitski and Morris Louis. In many ways, Noland’s pioneering reductive approach of focusing on the basic elements of the medium of painting itself foreshadowed the emergence of Minimalism. An iconic example of Noland’s oeuvre, Untitled vividly underlines how, as art historian Diana Waldman observed, "Noland's search for the ideal Platonic form has crystallized into an art in which color and form are held in perfect equilibrium…The rational and the felt, distilled form and sensuous color intermesh to create a magic presence. His color is space. Color is all" (Diane Waldman, Kenneth Noland: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York, 1977, p. 36).

Property of the Mayerson Family Collection



signed and dated "Kenneth Noland 1959" on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
36 1/4 x 36 in. (92.1 x 91.4 cm.)
Painted in 1959.

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $495,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 November 2017