What to See in New York Art Galleries This Week
By: Martha Schwendener
Inspired by the civil rights movement, Quentin Morris began making all-black paintings and works on paper in 1963 and has continued to do so ever since. The earliest work in this 40-year survey at Blum & Poe, his first solo exhibition in New York, is from 1974. But all of the objects here use some form of black pigment — ink, spray paint, acrylic, graphite — applied to canvas, Mylar or found paper.
Mr. Morris is hardly the first artist to devote himself to painting in black. An entire subgenre exists of works by Kazimir Malevich, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Marcia Hafif and Wade Guyton, who all used the device to explore the limits of formalism, nihilism or materiality. Like Reinhardt, Mr. Morris (a practicing Buddhist) is also interested in the spiritual aspects of an all-black canvas. He is distinct among these artists, however, in considering — or at least stating outright — race as a motivating factor.
Rectangles and circles of black fill the galleries at Blum & Poe, pushing back against negative ideas about black as inferior or subordinate, even as a color value. On a formal level, Mr. Morris’s works are not as compelling as those by Reinhardt, the undisputed master of the form with his mysterious, self-concocted powdery pigment covering the canvas. But Mr. Morris’s works remind us that, despite superficial similarities, no black painting is the same — an idea that can be extended to culture, society and politics. And it is a pleasure to include another worthy name in the roster of this austere and rigorous genre.