LAMA BLOG

Just In: Jennifer Bartlett

November 1, 2018

Disaster in the Everyday:  The Houses of Jennifer Bartlett

Perhaps best known for her monumental work Rhapsody (1975-1976), Jennifer Bartlett has explored the foundations of the painting medium for over forty years. As a young artist, Bartlett was impressed by Sol LeWitt’s 1967 essay “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” and became fascinated with artistic applications of Chaos Theory. Bartlett has worked with “every conceivable medium,” including more unlikely candidates such as jewelry, theater design, and fiction writing. Despite being one of the most commercially successful female artists of the 1970s, Bartlett has long been overlooked. Over the past decade, however, scholars have begun to reappraise her work. Bartlett’s first major museum survey, “History of the Universe: 1970-2011,” debuted at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2013. Earlier this year in April 2018, LACMA acquired Bartlett’s House Piece (1970), which will be featured in their 2021 exhibition, “Coded: Art at the Dawn of the Computer Age, 1960–80.”

Jennifer Bartlett, White House, 1985
November 18, 2018, The Collection of Gerard L. Cafesjian

Beginning in the 1970s, the image of the house began to saturate Bartlett’s work. While grappling with notions of iconography, the artist asked herself, “what is the most common image in the U.S.A. that everyone would recognize?…I picked a red house with a white picket fence.” As a universal and domestic shape, the geometric house became a popular icon amongst feminist artists because of its cool minimalism and immediate association with the nuclear family, and a woman’s place in the home. While Bartlett’s 1980s multimedia series further develops themes from her earlier works, pieces like White House (1985) also amplify a new feeling of alienation. Recalling her own essay, “Los Angeles Notebook,” Joan Didion identified an “apprehension of the potential for disaster in the everyday” within Bartlett’s series.  Didion argued that the artist’s “curious blend of coziness and impending trouble” is a hallmark sensibility from Bartlett’s California upbringing.

The quiet eeriness of Bartlett’s multimedia series is in part a result of her rigorous investigation of medium itself.  Traditionally, the two-dimensional picture plane simulates perspective and thus creates an imagined space. Sculpture on the other hand has no need for this illusion, given that it already exists in the real space of the viewer. Bartlett’s positioning of parallel images in both mediums, however “disorients our perception.” The two-dimensional painting presents a realistic environment that encourages you to project yourself into it. Ironically, Bartlett’s three-dimensional rendition appears flat and strikingly uninhabitable. This dialogue is jarring and causes you to feel unsteady in your own space. Returning to Bartlett’s subject matter, this phenomena becomes all at once alarming as it is induced by a canonical American house. As one curator argued, the image dislocates the viewer because a home is seen as one’s “surrogate self” in terms of both time and space. In thinking of the house “as our primary place…the rest of the world radiates outward in every direction,” as we often think of other places in terms of “how many minutes, hours, or days” it would take to travel from our home to the destination. The quest to negotiate the relationship between Bartlett’s two-dimensional and three-dimensional houses destabilizes the viewer’s own bearings and familiar perceptions of reality. This formal depth identifies the multimedia series as “some of [the] most important work” of Bartlett’s career, and remains an intriguing exploration of place.

Perrone, Jeff. Jennifer Bartlett: Recent Work. Milwaukee Art Museum, 1988.
Newhall, Edith. “Jennifer Bartlett, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.” ARTnews, November 2013.
Vogel, Wendy. “On and Off the Grid: A Painter Bends Conceptualism’s Rules.” Modern Painters, April 2014.
Schwendener, Martha. “Grids and Steel Spanning Great Divides.”  May 11, 2014.
Murray, Elizabeth. “Binary Images: Shaped Canvases and Plate Paintings.” BOMB Magazine, no. 93, Fall 2005, pp. 54-59.


Lot 125
Jennifer Bartlett
White House
1985
Oil on canvas with mixed-media installation
130″ x 192″ x 118″ (as illustrated); (330 x 488 x 300 cm)
Provenance  Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, New York; Private Collection (acquired directly from the above, 1986); Private Collection (acquired directly from the above through Sotheby’s, New York, New York, November 11, 1993, lot 173a); Sotheby’s, New York, New York, October 11, 2006, lot 192; The Estate of Gerard L. Cafesjian
Exhibited  “Jennifer Bartlett,” Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, April 4-April 27, 1985; “75th American Exhibition,” Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, March 8-April 27, 1986
Illustrated  “Jennifer Bartlett.” ARTnews. E. Hertney. Sept. 1985. 131.; “The 75th American Exhibition: Tradition Confronts the Future.” New Art Examiner. M. Segard and J. Yood. May 1986. 28.; Jennifer Bartlett: Recent Work. Milwaukee Art Museum exh. cat. 1988. 21.

Estimate: $30,000–50,000
November 18, 2018 Auction, The Collection of Gerard L. Cafesjian

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