Mondrian banned “the natural” from his painting, but there are rural views from Dutch trains that always remind me of the “abstract reality” of his later works. Looking out at the primary colours of tulips, for example, one sees picture plane flat fields divided into squares and rectangles by the dark lines of drainage ditches. These fields are Mondrian-like geometries of compositional variation where no one area dominates and which, in winter, display a simple, architectural absence of colour.
When Ian Wallace argued that Mondrian remained “a 19th century, high romantic” landscape painter, his critique was existential and melancholic. This critique, which concluded his 1969 masters thesis in art history, continues to inform his practice. Whereas critics such as Meyer Schapiro and Clement Greenberg have commented on the presence of the three-dimensional in Mondrian’s abstract work, Wallace uses the flat, high-modernist monochrome panel as a figurative element in his painting, or has overlaid it with photos that make reference to fin-de-siècle romanticism.
This approach, as self-consciously aware of its own history as it is of the history of art, was one of the pleasures of the Rotterdam exhibition in the major three-venue survey, “Ian Wallace: A Literature of Images.” An initiative of the Witte de With’s director, Nicolaus Schafhausen, in partnership with Kunsthalle Zürich and Düsseldorf’s Kunstverein für die Reinlande und Westfalen, each venue staged its own, concurrently running look at Wallace’s production. In Rotterdam, curator Renske Janssen brilliantly assembled over 80 major and minor works, studies and documentation.
If Mondrian’s theosophist intention overlays his painterly materials like a heavy varnish; in Wallace’s work, material is what it seems to be. Paint is paint, canvas is canvas, and photos are iconically photos …
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