By: Sam Korman
The portable hole is a deus ex machina of sorts, a black circle that doubles as a teleportation device. Cartoon characters use them to effortlessly escape from or banish their adversaries—and petty annoyances. The void’s blackness seems infinite, governed by the character’s will.
In Quentin Morris’s current solo exhibition, black limitlessly absorbs constraint. The show collects unstretched canvases and framed drawings, all untitled, from 1975 to today, and surveys the painter’s career-spanning meditations on the color black as well as the notion of blackness as it pertains to race. Five monochromatic circle paintings hang symmetrically in the first gallery. The contrast between silk-screen ink and acrylic paint emphasizes their folds and textures, and the paintings’ dappled surfaces suggest that they were pressed together then pulled apart. In direct sunlight, one 2016 painting resembles an eclipse—a halo emanates from the white wall behind it. These works are reactive and present to their surroundings, and the gallery space yields to the magnetic depths of their dark surfaces. Standing between them, it feels as if you’ve passed into the void.
Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings are an obvious touchstone, but Morris eschews that artist’s antagonism. In a pair of drawings from 1987, graphite delicately adheres to its blueprint-paper substrate, creating a tension that sustains the solid, metallic-looking drawing material’s momentary grace. And a painting from 1986 faces a bank of windows in the fifth-floor south gallery, the earliest of five separate rectangular works on view. While nonreferential, the paintings unassumingly observe something of their respective years. As the powdery matte surface of the painting above swallows up the abundant sunlight, our vision remains complicit in the production of blackness.