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Paul Jenkins painting on show at the Guggenheim

July 19, 2019

A 1956 painting in oil is currently on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City in the exhibition Artistic License: Six Takes on the Guggenheim Collection. The Guggenheim invited six artists to curate an exhibition of other artists' works in the museum’s collection to be shown on each of the six ramps of the museum’s central rotunda. This large and important work by Jenkins was chosen by the artist Richard Prince for his curated section entitled “Four Paintings Looking Right,” and is illustrated in the review by Roberta Smith: 'The Guggenheim’s Collection as Seen by Six Art Stars'in the New York Times, June 28, 2019.


The Prophecy (1956) shows Jenkins’ command in exploiting the fluidities of oils and enamels poured onto primed canvas, as well as the importance the artist ascribed to what he called his “lost and found line.” In a mid-1950s entry in the artist’s journal about the white enamel he was using at the time, Jenkins writes that “The line can be made to seem to appear, it emerges rather than looks like the direct calligraphic stroke.” The eminent art historian Albert E. Elsen addresses Jenkins’ use of line in his 1973 monograph on the artist and writes that the enamel gave Jenkins a “more spontaneous, fluid resource with which to find simultaneously a reflected and a luminous light.” Elsen further describes work from this period:


Between 1953 and 1959 Jenkins’ paintings have a distinguishing density of unquiet events which do not resolve themselves in such a way as to allow the beholder to orient himself easily to the embattled genesis performed before his eyes. There are no horizon lines, focal points, or footholds, no scaling of luminosity to separate sky and earth, or top and bottom, no textural gradation to measure near and far, no crystallized forms for anchorage during our visual voyage.... The paintings have a sustained, turbulent intensity within themselves and from one work to another that gives them a breathless urgency.”


The exhibition runs from 24 May 2019 to 12 January 2020.