Larry Poons - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 13, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Mr. & Mrs. Robert B. Mayer, Chicago
    Sotheby’s, New York, Contemporary Art, Part II, November 9, 1989, lot 335
    Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
    Sotheby’s, New York, Contemporary Art, Part II, May 3, 1995, lot 169
    PaceWildenstein, New York
    Private Collection, New York

  • Exhibited

    Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, 30th Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, February 24 – April 19, 1967
    New York, Jacobson Howard Gallery, Classic Works from the 1960s, December 3, 2003 – January 26, 2004
    New York, Loretta Howard Gallery, Larry Poons: Geometry and Dots, November 7 – December 14, 2013

  • Catalogue Essay

    “The important thing is the interrelationship between all the colors. And whatever that relationship might end up being is the way the painting is going to look.” Larry Poons, 1965

    In 1963, at only 26 years of age, Larry Poons was given his first solo exhibition at Green Gallery. He quickly rose to prominence in the New York art world shortly thereafter when his work was featured in “The Responsive Eye,” The Museum of Modern Art’s celebrated exhibition from 1965 that sought to shed light on new methods of optical representation. Four years later, Poons would be included in Henry Geldzahler’s landmark survey exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970” was comprised of 43 artists spanning two and a half generations, including Robert Motherwell, Frank Stella and Helen Frankenthaler; the 33 year-old Poons was the youngest participant.

    The works for which Poons was being acknowledged during these formative years were known as the Dot paintings: large-scale paintings of solid circles and ovals juxtaposed against intense, monochromatic backgrounds. The contrasting relationship between the vast color fields that occupy the majority of the canvas and the complementary colors of the interspersed ellipses creates a destabilizing, flickering effect. The irregular and seemingly random arrangement of the ellipses enhances the optical impact of the painting, denying the viewer’s eyes the opportunity to rest.

    Jessica’s Hartford, painted in 1965, is the epitome of this celebrated early series by Larry Poons. Vivid orange, lime green and white ovals glitter across the entire canvas, which is painted in a striking chartreuse tint. The haphazard patterning of the dots creates the illusion of space that repeatedly fools the eye. There is a structure, to be sure, but one cannot quite grasp where its logic lies. The painting suggests a rationale the viewer can expect to follow, only to then abandon it and disrupt any notion of an orderly composition. There is an unresolved playfulness in the work that both delights and frustrates. This visual complexity is precisely what the influencers of the time were responding to in their praise of the series.

    Early critical reception of these works tied Poons to a variety of movements, most notably Op Art, as well as Color Field painting and Minimalism. Poons sought to distance himself from the artists of the Op Art movement, such as Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely, stating that the optical effects of his works were simply unintended consequences. Rather, he wished to align himself more with painterly abstraction, particularly that of geometric abstraction as exemplified by Piet Mondrian. Poons was heavily influenced by experiments with color and composition as they related to music and was interested in a further exploration of Mondrian’s rhythmic abstraction and use of primordial color. This combined with his musical training and background would largely inform his early work.

    Poons studied composition at the New England Conservatory of Music from 1955-57. Upon moving to New York, he connected with artists that would go on to form part of Fluxus and later enrolled in one of John Cage’s courses at the New School, whose immensely influential teachings emphasized the notated score and chance operations as a starting point for artistic creation. In preparing the Dot paintings, Poons created diagrams reminiscent of musical scores that mapped out and established the structure of the work. These drawings tell a great deal about the artist’s process and intent. Here one can clearly see the presence of an underlying grid to which Poons adhered his ellipses—with drawn out lines connecting the individual elements—yet the exact system that would explain the placement of the dots remains obscure. If there is a systematic order it does not render itself visible, even in the diagram, which further explains the optical impact of these paintings. Rather than belonging to a legible, mathematical structure, the relationship between the dots is better understood as a selection of chords or intuitive musical notations. While Poons turned away from music to become a painter by the end of the 1950s, its influence on his practice was by then solidified.

    In purposefully eschewing a decipherable order to his paintings, Poons sought to give all the facets of his works equal weight, emphasizing the composition in its entirety rather than its disparate parts. “What I’m trying to do is to destroy any relationship between anything in the paintings so that everything has a chance instead of just one thing or two things coming to the front… everything has an equal chance.” (Larry Poons, as quoted in interview with Dorothy Seckler, 1965)

    Color and materiality are central to the art of Larry Poons. As his practice developed and he moved away from the Dot paintings into more gestural and expressive modes of abstraction, these principle elements remained vital. For Poons, a painting must first exist as a painting—that is, with color, texture and space—before it can exist as an idea. His Dot paintings reveal that he was strongly motivated by the inherent properties of paint and the belief that a painting is rooted in its use of color. In a published essay tellingly titled "Mr. Natural," fellow Color Field virtuoso Frank Stella harped the praise of Poons, professing, "Touch in its individualized and general aspect seems to be the gesture that best identifies art for us. And it could be argued that this identifying touch is what most satisfies us when we engage with art, when we look at paintings. Certainly Larry Poons' painting is driven by the right gesture, true artistic touch." (F. Stella, "Mr. Natural (Larry Poons)", 2000). The ethos inherent in each work throughout Poons' extensive oeuvre evokes a subliminal and visceral connection compelled of its audience through each fleck of color, competing for our gaze.


Jessica's Hartford

acrylic on canvas
128 1/4 x 80 in. (325.8 x 203.2 cm)
Signed and dated "1965 L. Poons" on the reverse. This work has both a vertical and horizontal orientation.

$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for $1,109,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Stoffel
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1261

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Evening Sale 14 May 2015 7pm