Robert Mangold - Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Tuesday, May 14, 2024 | Phillips

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  • “From roughly 1968-70 I worked with a more rigid serial intent, in that I conceived ideas—the W, V, X Series (1968-69), for instance—that attempted to work out all the possibilities of a given idea.”
    —Robert Mangold

    With 1/2 W, V, X Series (Orange, Green, Blue), executed in 1968, Robert Mangold presents a trio of colored semicircles featuring various geometrical zigzagging motifs. Here, Mangold takes a literal approach in shaping his paintings, utilizing Masonite supports and flat colors to create a sense of spatial distortion through carefully scored diagonal and vertical incisions that mark the eponymous “W,” “V,” and “X” letter forms. This important suite stands as a touchstone of Mangold’s fascination with line and form, as well as the intellectual rigor synonymous with the onset of his mature artistic period in the mid-1960s.


    The present works stem from Mangold's association with the Fischbach Gallery in New York from 1964 to 1973. In this period, he forged his signature Minimalist style and gained prominence through his inclusion in the Jewish Museum's Spring 1966 survey show, Primary Structures, which marked the first American museum exhibition to showcase Minimalist painting and garnered critical acclaim for introducing a new visual lexicon to the Western art canon. Mangold's positioning alongside pioneers of the movement—such as Sol LeWitt, Dan Flavin, and Donald Judd—came on the heels of his first-ever solo exhibition, Walls and Areas, which he staged at the Fischbach Gallery in the fall of 1965. Following this exhibition, where he debuted a series of the same name expressing his perception of urban structures—windows, walls, obfuscated buildings, and the sharp spaces created between them—he held a second solo show at the gallery in 1967, titled Recent Paintings, introducing his initial experiments with sections of circles on board. In his curved paintings stemming this period, the present works included, Mangold set out to exhaust all possibilities within the part-circle format—dividing them into halves, quarters, and segments, flipping the position of the quadrant, doubling and inverting sectors, and negotiating line and meaning within variations of symmetry and asymmetry.


    Robert Mangold, WVX Series, 1970. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C. Image: © National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, Patrons' Permanent Fund and Gift of Dorothy and Herbert Vogel, Artwork: © 2024 Robert Mangold / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    “I was sitting there looking at curved hills and I started doing some funny kind of landscape works that had a slightly atmospheric rectangular top and then a curved bottom. I think it may have come from that summer where I was just looking at that space in nature, but when I got back to the city I started working with a compass curve, in a sense, and did a series of paintings that were parts of circles, a half circle broken in different ways.”
    —Robert Mangold i

    In his initial experiments with sections of circles, Mangold allowed the edges of his panels to dictate the placement of linear divisions, but by 1968, he introduced additional internal dissonance by cutting the panels from corner to corner. The added cuts connecting the diagonals in the 1/2 W, V, X Series works marked a decisive change in Mangold’s practice, anticipating the abstract linear forms that would figure in much of his subsequent output. Indeed, the present works are representative of the first decade of Mangold's artistic maturity. They feature industrial supports and colors, reflecting his initial serial intent—the emphasis of which he would later shift in favor of variation and thwarting formal considerations as a means by which he can, in his own terms, “set up problems for the viewer.”ii In three iterations, forming and reforming each of their eponymous letters, Mangold explored the fragmentation of shapes derived from a bisected circular form. Posing the letters themselves as an extension of that fragmentation, he separates them from any verbal structure and runs them together in burbled repetition so that they lose all meaning. In doing so, Mangold uses not only the formal language of geometric abstraction but also the building blocks of actual written language to challenge the nature of painting.


    John A. Ferrari, Robert Mangold holding a drawing, 1968. Fischbach Gallery records, 1937-2015. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Image: Courtesy John A. Ferrari and Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Fischbach Gallery records, 1937-2015, Artwork: © 2024 Robert Mangold / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    1968 marked a pivotal transition for Mangold as he shifted from oil to acrylic paint, in turn changing his application process from spraying to rolling it onto industrially oriented supports like Masonite and Plywood. In 1/2 W, V, X Series (Orange, Green, Blue), the smooth surface of the Masonite allows for a precise application of paint, emphasizing its crisp edges and clean lines. Moreover, his use of acrylic paint, a medium known for its vibrancy and durability, ensures that the hues retain their luminosity over time, while the flatness of the colors, muted and devoid of tonal variations, intensifies the visual impact, creating a surface that is simultaneously soothing and assertive.


    While other Minimalists were primarily driven by concepts and theoretical frameworks, Mangold's approach was distinct; he reacted viscerally to color and environment, setting him apart. The early application of monochromatic surfaces with a roller, the present works included, aimed to avoid the intimate traces of brushstrokes, known as "surface incidents." In these works, Mangold drew color inspiration from his immediate surroundings—mundane elements like filing cabinets, school buses, subway stations, and loft buildings. His careful compositions embody subtle complexity, whereby Mangold invites his viewer to contemplate the manifold possibilities of line, as well as the nuanced interactions of form and color. The 1/2 W, V, X elements exhibit their strongest impact when presented together, as demonstrated with the present selection of works. Displayed as a complete set of the three color and letter variations, the suite is a visually striking coexistence of contrast and seriality that skillfully balances form, color, and line.


    Frank Stella, Agbatana II, 1968. Musée d'art moderne et contemporain de Saint-Étienne Métropole. Image: Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © 2024 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Mangold’s attention to the architecture of his part paintings—both in terms of each panel’s own internal structure as well as its relationship to the wall on which it hangs—reflects the development of his engagement with art history in these pivotal years. While as a young artist he was primarily inspired by contemporary American artists, particularly Barnett Newman and the Abstract Expressionists, the influence of pre-Renaissance panel paintings and frescoes by Giotto, Piero, and other master painters of the Quattrocento takes on increasing importance at this stage in his career. Drawing inspiration from Newman, Mangold extends an intuitive sectioning of the Masonite surface through line and colored panes, increasing the pitch between line and frame and, ultimately inviting a dialogue between the painting and the wall. Likewise, in his exploration of the symbolic associations of shape, Mangold frees the fresco from the structure of the building, so to speak. Whereas a half-moon panel like Neroccio de’ Landi’s The Annunciation, ca. 1480, would have been intended to adorn the upper register of a large altarpiece and thus been distanced from and seen at an angle by the viewer, Mangold’s own ‘lunettes’ are brought down to eye level and isolated against an otherwise white wall. This allows for a more direct experience of looking and responding.


    In 1/2 W, V, X Series (Orange, Green, Blue), Mangold draws out this idea of removal and fragmentation, exposing the junctures of his painting to further counteract the illusion of depth and draw attention to the work's physical support. He removes any semblance of narrative while, with a further nod to classical motifs, maintaining a certain linearity, as well as an overall shape that is both historically and architecturally evocative, thus offering and obstructing his viewer’s window onto another reality.


    Neroccio de' Landi, The Annunciation, ca. 1480. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut. Image: Yale University Art Gallery, University Purchase from James Jackson Jarves, 1871.63

    In an interview with the artist conducted in 1974, critic Rosalind Krauss described the late 60’s works as being highly emblematic and commenting specifically the works with curved lower edges, saying that they appear “very shieldlike.”iii Speaking to the tension orchestrated by Mangold in the contrast of the wall works’ curved and sharp edges juxtaposed with the flatness of field, she suggests a connection with the polychromatic painted shields of the Italian Renaissance, saying, “They recall to me a fifteenth-century kind of painting which one gets with Castagno painting on a shield, in that frontal, holistic sense of the shield as both a picture and an emblem.”iv

    Andrea del Castagno, David with the Head of Goliath, c. 1450/1455. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Image: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Widener Collection, 1942.9.8

    Certainly, the sheer sculptural power inherent in Andrea del Castagno’s David with the Head of Goliath, c. 1450/1455, for example, as well as the implicit connection between form and the significance of form, is evoked in the play of incised line and colored shape in the present works. Mangold himself approved the interpretation but stressed an important distinction—the intervention of his interior cut lines in breaking apart the subdued surface, which helps to dilute that sense of the outer structure and the connotations of that shape. Further reflecting on the consequence of not just shape but surface, he adds, “in the earlier paintings where the surface was sprayed, it got you involved in the internal surface in a way that seemed to get away from the pressure of the external shape.”v By working on the surface and never going over the edges of a painting, Mangold resists the work becoming “any more of an object than it had to be” and, in doing so, toes the line between painting and

    Collector’s Digest


    • A larger-format trio of segments from Mangold’s 1968-1969 1/2 W, V, X series—presented in the same colorway as the current work—graced the Oval Office of the White House throughout Barack Obama’s two terms as President, from 2009 to 2017. These pieces were on loan from the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., where they had been gifted by Dorothy and Herbert Vogel.vii , viii, ix The grouping was featured in a 2016 issue of Architectural Digest, pictured alongside an article by Mayer Rus discussing the array of 20th and 21st-century artworks on display in the president’s private quarters.x


    i Robert Mangold, quoted in John Yau, “In Conversation: Robert Mangold with John Yau”, The Brooklyn Rail, March 2009, online.

    ii Robert Mangold, quoted in “Art in the 21st Century: Balance,” Art21, Season 6, Episode 4, May 3, 2012, video, online.

    iii Rosalind Krauss, quoted in “Robert Mangold: An Interview,” Artforum, vol. 12, no. 7, March 1974, online.

    iv Ibid.

    v Ibid.

    vi Robert Mangold, quoted in John Yau, “In Conversation: Robert Mangold with John Yau”, The Brooklyn Rail, March 2009, online.

    vii NGA record for 1/2 W Series (Medium Scale), 1968, online.

    viii NGA record for 1/2 V Series (Medium Scale), 1969, online.

    ix NGA record for 1/2 X Series (Medium Scale), 1968, online.

    x Mayer Rus, “Executive Order,” Architectural Digest, vol. 73, no. 12, December 2016, pp. 83, 87 (White House, Washington D.C., installation view illustrated, p. 87)

    • Provenance

      Fischbach Gallery, New York
      Private Collection, Italy
      Private Collection, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

      Fischbach Gallery, New York
      Private Collection, Switzerland
      Private Collection, Chicago
      Private Collection, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

      Fischbach Gallery, New York
      Studio La Città, Verona
      Gallerie Rene Ziegler, Zürich
      Marischa Burckhardt, Basel
      Private Collection
      Sotheby’s, New York, November 14, 2012, lot 265
      Galleria Elvira Gonzalez, Madrid
      Private Collection, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Fischbach Gallery, Robert Mangold, February 22–March 13, 1969
      New York, Mnuchin Gallery, Robert Mangold: A Survey 1965-2003, February 14–March 25, 2017, pp. 11, 44-45, 69 (illustrated, p. 45)

    • Literature

      Robert Mangold Paintings 1964-1982, exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1982, nos. 81, 85, 88, n.p.
      John Yau, “Robert Mangold’s Sense of Things,” Hyperallergic, February 26, 2017, online (Mnuchin Gallery, New York, 2017, installation view illustrated)
      David Carrier, “Robert Mangold: A Survey, 1965-2003,” The Brooklyn Rail, March 2017, online


Three works: (i) 1/2 W Series (Orange); (ii) 1/2 V Series (Green); (iii) 1/2 X Series (Blue)

each signed, respectively titled and dated “1/2 [W, V, X] Series R. Mangold 1968” on the reverse
acrylic on Masonite
each 12 x 24 in. (30.5 x 61 cm)
Executed in 1968.

Full Cataloguing

$600,000 - 900,000 

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Kolberg
Associate Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1206

Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 May 2024