KENNETH NOLAND (1924-2010)
KENNETH NOLAND (1924-2010)
KENNETH NOLAND (1924-2010)
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Property from the Important Canadian Collection of Eph and Shirley Diamond
KENNETH NOLAND (1924-2010)

Tondo

Details
KENNETH NOLAND (1924-2010)
Tondo
signed 'Kenneth Noland' (on the reverse)
acrylic on shaped canvas
diameter: 58 ½ in. (148.6 cm.)
Painted in 1961.
Provenance
Park International, New York
Lawrence Rubin Gallery, New York
Meredith Long & Company, Houston
Joseph and Sylvia Slifka, New York
M. Knoedler & Co. Inc., New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1981
Literature
Kenneth Noland: A Retrospective, exh. cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1977, pp. 23-24 (illustrated; dated 1958-1959).
K. Moffett, Kenneth Noland, New York, 1977, p. 55, no. 39 (illustrated; dated 1958-1959).
H. Foster, "The 'Primitive' Unconscious of Modern Art," October, vol. 34, Autumn 1985, p. 50.
Exhibited
New York, Museum of Modern Art, "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, September 1984-January 1985, p. 45, no. 84.728 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

“I knew what a circle could do. Both eyes focus on it. It stamps itself out, like a dot. This in turn, causes one's vision to spread, as in a mandala in Tantric art.” Kenneth Noland

Championing strict geometry in service of optical relations between color and form, Kenneth Noland developed a carefully restrained visual catalogue that went against the autobiographical brushstrokes of his Abstract Expressionist contemporaries. Tondo is an exceptionally rare example of Noland’s work with shaped canvases and is especially notable for its use of his signature circular compositions. Similar motifs are mainly painted on square canvases, their corners filled with brushy, abstract fields from which the rings of color break as if by virtue of a powerful centrifugal force. Tondo becomes that vortex itself, the edges of the picture plane conforming to the elements within. The artist seized upon the circular device in an effort to absorb the viewer into the work without resorting to abstract compositions that took over the entire canvas. “I knew what a circle could do,” he admitted. “Both eyes focus on it. It stamps itself out, like a dot. This in turn, causes one's vision to spread, as in a mandala in Tantric art” (K. Noland, quoted in K. Wilkin, Kenneth Noland, New York, 1990, p. 8). Creating an almost meditative surface on which the audience could fixate, works like the present example clearly illustrate the artist’s mastery of formal composition.

Set within the frame like a giant target, Tondo brings the viewer’s focus immediately to its sun-like center. In an unbroken red-orange hue, Noland fills our gaze with a sense of outward motion that springs forth and seeks the edge. Radiating from vibrant red to dusky yellow to icy blue and finally to white, the circular bands of raw canvas create an almost hypnotic effect as the color becomes one with the canvas and the space it occupies. "Noland's search for the ideal Platonic form has crystallized into an art in which color and form are held in perfect equilibrium," Diane Waldman explained. "The spare geometry of his form heightens the emotional impact of his color. The rational and the felt, distilled form and sensuous color intermesh to create a magic presence. His color is space. Color is all" (D. Waldman, Kenneth Noland: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York, 1977, p. 36). By establishing a balance between empty space and saturated hues, he created a nearly tangible connection between the surface and its surroundings.

Noland’s oeuvre evolved as he began to embrace the tenets of abstraction while also eschewing an active, painterly surface. This journey into the realm of Hard-edge Painting was achieved by manipulating color and basic shapes, an action that accentuated the essential format of his works and bridged the divide between the art and the space it occupied. “The naked fabric acts as a generalizing and unifying field,” Clement Greenberg wrote, “and at the same time its confessed wovenness and porousness suggest a penetrable, ambiguous plane, opening up the picture from the back so to speak” (C. Greenberg, “Louis and Noland,” in J. O’Brian, ed., Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 4, Modernism with a Vengeance, Chicago, 1993, p. 15). Tondo is singular in its ability to activate our viewing as the ripples of stark color seem to expand onto the wall itself.

Noland served in the United States Air Force in the mid-1940s and was thus able to study at Black Mountain College and subsequently travel to Paris under the GI Bill. In France, he found the artistic legacy of the Cubists and Fauves quite prevalent. However, trained in the color theory of Josef Albers during his time in North Carolina and influenced by the Neo-plasticism of Piet Mondrian, the artist found it hard to accept these stylistic tendencies. He moved to Washington, D.C. in 1949 where he began teaching and taking further courses at Black Mountain College. The circle became a central motif within Noland’s work as early as the mid-1950s when he moved away from the ‘all-over’ compositions of the Abstract Expressionists in favor of a more direct, motivated center point. However, the artist was still indebted to the work of colleagues like Jackson Pollock and especially that of Helen Frankenthaler, as the use of unprimed canvas in tandem with his hard-edged concentric rings sought a balance between the staining techniques of the latter and more rigid Platonic structures. Preeminent Modernist critic Clement Greenberg was enthralled with Noland’s developments and planted the painter firmly in his newly-minted movement of Post-painterly Abstraction. Greenberg noted, “Noland’s motifs do not possess the quality of images; they are present solely in an abstract capacity, as means solely of organizing and galvanizing the picture field. Thanks to their centeredness and their symmetry, the discs…create a revolving movement that spins out…beyond the four sides of the picture to evoke, once again, limitless space, weightlessness, air.” (Ibid., p. 98). Doing away with emotional content and any trace of representation, Noland distilled his practice down to the most poignant formal structures.

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