Kenneth Noland (1924-2010)
Kenneth Noland (1924-2010)
Kenneth Noland (1924-2010)
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Kenneth Noland (1924-2010)
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Kenneth Noland (1924-2010)

Flutter

Details
Kenneth Noland (1924-2010)
Flutter
signed twice, titled and dated twice 'Flutter 1960 Kenneth Noland Kenneth Noland 1960' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
67 3/8 x 66 7/8 in. (171.1 x 170 cm.)
Painted in 1960.
Provenance
Lawrence Rubin, New York, acquired directly from the artist, 1962
Carter Burden, New York
Agnes Gund and Albrecht Saalfield, Concord, Massachusetts
Larry Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles
Steve Martin, Los Angeles
Kenneth Noland, Bennington, 1990
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1994
Literature
B. Rose, "Kenneth Noland," Art International, Summer 1964, p. 59 (illustrated).
K. Moffett, Kenneth Noland, New York, 1977, p. 125, no. 92 (illustrated).
K. Wilkin, Kenneth Noland, New York, 1990, p. 37, no. 11 (illustrated).
Exhibited
New York, André Emmerich Gallery, Kenneth Noland: New Works, March-April 1961.
Boston, The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Color Abstractions: Selections from the Museum of Fine Arts, November 1979-January 1980.
Cleveland Museum of Art, The Agnes Gund-Saalfield Collection, June-August 1982.
New York, Stephen Mazoh Gallery, Twentieth Century Works of Art, 1985, no. 17 (illustrated).
Edmonton Art Gallery, Appreciating Noland, November 1990-January 1991, p. 65.

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Isabella Lauria
Isabella Lauria Head of 21st Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

“The ‘Circles’ of the 1950s and ‘60s were like silent detonations in the history of modern art.”
—J. Panero, “Gallery Chronicle”, The New Criterion, January 2018.

A classic conundrum in considerable scale, Kenneth Noland’s Flutter (1960) collapses long-imposed painterly expectations of abstraction and creates instead a tripartite record of the past, the present and the future swimming together in living color. A cerulean sphere inhabits the center of the balanced composition, encircled by a precise strip of raw canvas, which subsequently gives way to more gestural swathes of eggshell, sky blue, thistle, salmon and goldenrod in growing circumferences bursting forth from the quiet node. The outer edge of pigment, however, does not indicate the ceasing of swirls, as a barely discernible halo shimmers in and out of view each time light plays across the spare canvas, both pleasantly surprising in its shyness and fearlessly flinging Flutter into the rapid course of art history.

Inspired by a studio visit with fellow New York School avant-gardes Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler arranged by lauded critic Clement Greenberg in 1953, Noland quickly dove into his own experiments with staining – a technique in which paint is poured directly onto the unprimed support in what might be the most liberating of all Abstract Expressionist actions: “The thinning of the picture plane produced abstractions that appear to thicken as they pour, spin, and explode into view” (J. Panero, “Gallery Chronicle”, The New Criterion, January 2018). While the role of the artist remains to corral the color within its defined contour, the chance inherent in such a process allows for greater symbiosis between what the material and its maker envision in toto, thereby resituating painting as less a terrain for the brush-wielder to conquer and more a landscape for the creative sojourner to traverse. Noland himself understood what it meant for the trajectory of visual culture to veer away from the long tradition of figurative painting: “When painters start out, they usually think in terms of images; they have ideas about what they want to make. They don’t just think about materials; they make materials conform to an idea they have of the way it should look. They may get disappointed because they simply don’t have the experience or the skill to deal with the stuff to get results” (K. Noland, quoted in “Kenneth Noland: Interviewed by Kathy Halbreich in Shaftsburg, Vermont, July 1977,” in Kenneth Noland Paintings 1958-1989, New York, 1989, p. 48). Flutter, however, is no disappointment, in its organized command of form and expert juxtaposition of hues, bespeaking Noland’s unparalleled mastery in coaxing image out of ether.

Ever courageous in his innovative mark-making, Noland boldly confronted the entrenched symbolism of the unaware central circle in his Target series, dubbed by critic Diane Waldman as the artist’s “first mature body of work” (D. Waldman, Kenneth Noland: A Retrospective, New York, 1977, p. 11). Glimpsed throughout human history, as the heliocentric universe asserted itself in the sciences, and the rotating wheel forged a way forward in the field of technology, and the all-seeing eye delivered adherents from evil, and the portable coin built empires upon gold, the circle has never been far from the collective consciousness as an immoveable pillar of society. The inset roundels on Rome’s Arch of Constantine (315 CE) abide by the same impetus as the glorious Christ Pantocrator figure in the Church of the Dormition at Daphni (1080-1100 CE), which presupposes the Renaissance preference for tondo paintings prior to the aesthetic development of the Kalachakra Mandala that embodies the selfsame concept as Jasper Johns’s encaustic target paintings reimagined even more recently in Jeff Koons’s Gazing Ball series. The round form is the essence, the artist’s lasso by which he or she strives to encapsulate all of life. For if life is to be a loop itself, could there be any more appropriate way to capture it?

Grounded, then, in this abundant spherical lineage, Flutter does not excise contemporary circumstance, but rather embraces it. On the precipice of a new global disaster and not far removed from the shocking conclusion to the Second World War, perhaps Noland’s Targets echo a sentiment somewhat more sinister beneath their smooth, lustrous surfaces: “Elusive in meaning, yet emerging at the height of the Cold War, the compositions may recall fallout maps with bands of visual radiation. …Or maybe they are something else altogether. Like the mandalas of Tantric Eastern art, which helped teach Noland ‘what a circle could do,’ these concentric abstractions came to represent both ends and beginnings – especially for Noland himself” (J. Panero, “Gallery Chronicle”, The New Criterion, January 2018). Nowhere is such representation clearer than in the present picture – reacquired by the artist in 1990, concurrent with the time Noland was revisiting his tested motif for a new suite of paintings, Flutter directly reflects the undying human urge to come “full-circle”. Deliberately titled after the uplifting movements of a butterfly’s wings, maybe the present painting is meant to reach still deeper into life, apprehending that arrhythmic heartbeat ahead of a pronouncement, that excitement that comes with pursuing a passion, or that tingling stomach feeling of first love. If Noland’s circle is to capture life, perhaps it is meant to inspire it too.

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