Important Art by Robert Mangold
Pink Area is a spare but visually impactful piece. Two slender, rectangular strips of Masonite join to form a square, a notch cut in the bottom right-hand corner to mar the symmetry of the form and reveal the plywood board behind, adding a visual and textural quirk. The Masonite panels are spray-painted - Mangold chose to apply paint in this way to avoid the impression of the artist's touch - with a gradient running from creamy grey to soft pink in the bottom fifth of the painting.
Pink Area is part of the Walls and Areas series, which expressed Mangold's perception of urban structures: windows, walls, obfuscated buildings, and the sharp spaces created between them. Of these works Mangold explained: "each work is a totality, but it implies that much more could be there." The series exemplifies the principles of Minimalism both in its enigmatic suggestion of illimitable form and because, Like Donald Judd's Specific Objects, it presents itself as "neither painting nor sculpture." Though painted, it lacks the mark of individual creation, and the color is monochromatic and unobtrusive, calling attention to the surface to which paint is adhered. Affixed to the wall, the piece takes on a sculptural element because of the cut-away bottom corner. Mangold himself, however, always preferred the term "Geometric Painter" to Minimalist.
In a sense Mangold's painting, with its strong associations of a smoky urban sunset, begs the question of whether Minimalist artists were ever able to create truly "non-referential" works. That said, the critic Daniel Marzona states of Walls and Areas that "although to a certain degree allusive, these early works already reveal Mangold's focus on the four independent but related elements of painting; shape, color, line, and surface."
Circle is a deceptively simple work, suggesting a series of different visual forms that the viewer is invited to complete in their mind. As with Pink Area, the extraction of part of the implied shape of the canvas creates a sense of tension between the qualities of painting and sculpture: a semi-circular curve marks out the right-hand side of the surface, but the circle is completed on the left-hand side by a thin graphite line. This contrast between drawn and sculpted shape generates a sense of formal play, complemented by marking out the sides of a polygon inside the right perimeter of the circle. This adds to the subtle sense of flux, as if the work were unsure whether to resolve itself into one shape or the other.
By the 1970s Mangold was tired of waiting for his oil paints to dry. He switched to acrylic paint, but because this often dried in his spray gun, he seized upon the roller as an ideal medium of application. He described paint rolling as "a very practical way of applying the paint without seeming sentimental or romantic about it." Lack of sentimentality also figures in the austere flatness of this work, with the lines of the polygon articulating the space of the canvas in the sparest possible terms. This self-reflexive minimalism reminds the viewer, as John Yau writes, "that a painting is a flat fragment mounted on the wall."
At the same time, Mangold's interest in the basic elements of a painting such as line and shape manifest themselves in works like this that challenge the very stability of both categories: if a line only partially expresses the outline of a shape, for example, is it part of that shape, or just a line? As Mangold put it: "[t]he work is a shape, but it's a shape in relation to the drawn figure in the composition; it's the marriage of those two things that starts the world in motion - what's going to be inside and what the outside is going to be, or how the outside works in relation to the inside."
As the title suggests, this piece consists of several canvases fused together to form the shape of an X, painted in shades of orange - a warm pumpkin and a fiery reddish hue - and jungle green. The green section, extending from bottom-left to top-right, consists of a single thin strip of canvas. The orange sections, irregularly sized, consist of two different canvases affixed to the center of the strip. Black pencil lines mark out the inner spaces of the cross, forming a second X within the painted composition.
In the early 1980s Mangold's muted, unprepossessing colors gave way to vibrant, saturated shades like those used in Green / 2 Orange. Whereas color had previously been subordinate to structure it was now an emphasized compositional feature. The oranges and green heighten the viewer's comprehension of the X form, but at the same time, as the critic Suzanne Muchnic notes, their irregular sizes "prove how eagerly the eyes generalize subtle inconsistencies." We want to make that familiar shape in our minds even if Mangold's piece insouciantly belies it. Again, the piece subtly suggests the presence of a different form to the one we are presented with, probing the dimensions of our formal unconscious.
But despite the new emphasis placed on color in Mangold's 1980s work the X shape remains the most important component of this piece. Moreover, though it is clearly possible to read allusions to religious iconography into the shape, and thus to Malevich's cruciform works, some observers have stressed that in the spirit of Minimalism all allegorical interpretation should be cast aside. In presenting their show of Mangold's X and + works, curators at London's Parasol Unit gallery emphasized that: "[t]he pencil inscribed figure of x or + on the painted canvas eliminates categorically any illusory effect and keeps the painting to the surface." To reference Frank Stella, one of the Minimal artists whom Mangold most admired, "what you see is what you see."