Alex Katz, 11:30 AM (detail), 2008, oil on linen, 8' x 6' (243.8 cm x 182.9 cm) © Alex Katz

Online Viewing Room

A Swiftly Tilting Planet

Mar 31 – Apr 14, 2020
Curated by Adam Sheffer and Oliver Shultz

A Swiftly Tilting Planet brings together a selection of works by seminal artists, expressing the potential energy of a teeming stillness and the promise of a future world.

The works in the exhibition capture slowness, inwardness, and reflection as techniques of insuppressible vitality, anointing every ending as a new beginning and celebrating art’s enduring power—and its salutary presence—in our topsy-turvy lives.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet features works by Lynda Benglis, Harry Callahan, William Eggleston, Eric Fischl, Peter Hujar, Alex Katz, Sol LeWitt, Maya Lin, Brice Marden, Elizabeth Murray, Lucas Samaras, Arlene Shechet, Kiki Smith, and Richard Tuttle.

Eric Fischl, Untitled, 2000, watercolor on paper, 59-3/4" x 40-1/4" (151.8 cm x 102.2 cm)
“I arise, I face the sunrise,
And do the things my fathers learned to do.
Stars in the purple dusk above the rooftops
Pale in a saffron mist and seem to die,
And I myself on a swiftly tilting planet
Stand before a glass and tie my tie.”

Conrad Aiken, from “Senlin: A Biography” (1918)

Even as everyday life frays at the seams, spring heralds its usual arrival. Crocuses bloom, the stars fade, and morning comes. Beauty persists as a beacon to guide our daily rituals even in times of tumult.

Think of Senlin in Conrad Aiken’s 1918 poem, who gazes out his window at a world ravaged by a World War and a worsening pandemic, but who finds instead the beauty of the morning sun’s arrival as it turns the mist a saffron hue in the new light of day. Art and poetry anchor us to our daily rituals, Senlin reminds us, promising the eternal return of the morning after the long night. This possibility of renewal endures, despite the uncertainties that come to pass on the “swiftly tilting planet” that we occupy together.

Alex Katz, 11:30 AM, 2008, oil on linen, 8' x 6' (243.8 cm x 182.9 cm)

“There are suns beneath my floor,” says Senlin in Aiken’s poem, and Alex Katz’s 11:30 AM (2008) is a riot of sunlight. In his exuberant rendition of a landscape, a field of golden grass at the edge of a cerulean lake becomes a “color field” of solar radiance, absorbing and reverberating sunlight while distending our looking into a kind of otherworldly time.

Katz offers us an ode to painting’s powers of slowness with a pastoral vision gilded in mid-morning splendor. He tunes our gaze to the rhythms of nature—to the daily promise of the sun’s rising and falling, a process that remains oblivious to human affairs—and to a future awaiting us through the escape of imagination, suggested by the silhouette of a dock and a rowboat lying nearby in the grass.

William Eggleston, Untitled, 1974, color pigment print, image, 27 1/8 x 18 3/4 inches paper, 30 x 24 inches

The sun’s radiance is equally alive in William Eggleston's timeless photographic portrait of a woman in a canary-yellow dress. She appears almost luminous in her causal encounter with the camera, both arrested by Eggleston’s lens and perpetually en route to some unknown destiny awaiting her just outside the frame. In Eggleston’s quintessential moment of frozen Americana, stillness becomes an active process of imagination and generativity, conjuring the promise of a future perpetually on the cusp of taking place.

Elizabeth Murray, Double, 1995, pastel and charcoal on 4 pieces of paper, 24 x 34" (61 x 88.4 cm) framed, 27" × 37"

The sense of a teeming or roiling stillness reverberates in two works on paper by seminal American artists Elizabeth Murray and Lucas Samaras, which confront the classical genre of the still life, exploding and refiguring it from the ground up. Murray’s bravura pastel rendition of two teacups—a signature motif from her visual lexicon—wobbles and bulges with characteristically seductive pulsation.

Lucas Samaras, Untitled, September 9, 1974, pastel on paper, 13 X 10"

A master of the pastel medium, which he began using in the late 1950s, Samaras renders a floral bouquet like a mirage hovering in a chromatic explosion of psychedelically tessellated forms. No longer nature morte, Samaras and Murray give us nature vivant—stillness imbued with all the churning libidinous energies of life.

Lynda Benglis, Mobilian, 2013, glazed ceramic, 18" × 18" × 15" (45.7 cm × 45.7 cm × 38.1 cm)

Two works in ceramic by Lynda Benglis and Arlene Shechet, both among the most influential figures in the history of post-1960s sculpture, celebrate the sensuous pleasures of materiality, surface, and texture. Benglis’s expressionistic glaze transforms the language of abstract painting into a three-dimensional choreography. Played out as a complex of folding spaces, drips and slashes of paint offer chromatic counterpoints to the undulating hand-worked surfaces of the underlying form.

Arlene Shechet, Reverb, 2017, glazed ceramic, painted hardwood, 33-1/2" × 22" × 19" (85.1 cm × 55.9 cm × 48.3 cm), ceramic 47" × 12" × 12" (119.4 cm × 30.5 cm × 30.5 cm), wood 80-1/2" × 22" × 19" (204.5 cm × 55.9 cm × 48.3 cm), overall
“...I don’t want to make something that’s just an idea. I want to make something that’s visceral.”

Arlene Shechet

Shechet’s Reverb (2017) turns color into a palpable thing, a seductive and beguiling presence that feels like an organ plucked from deep within our own bodies, enlivened with totemic power but also levitated as if in a state of suspended animation.

Peter Hujar, Horse, West Virginia, 1969, pigmented ink print, 14-3/4" × 14-3/4" (37.5 cm × 37.5 cm), image 20" × 16" (50.8 cm × 40.6 cm), paper
“There are horses neighing on far-off hills
Tossing their long white manes,
And mountains flash in the rose-white dusk,
Their shoulders black with rains....”

Conrad Aiken, from “Senlin: A Biography” (1918)

The sense of bodily presence, anthropomorphism, and arrested motion is also at work in a tender portrait of a horse on a hillside by the great American photographer Peter Hujar. Hujar produced many touching portraits of animals over the course of his career, often drawing out a kind of subjective presence that suggests the artist’s empathy for the lives of other terrestrial beings. Here, he frames the horse—an animal capable of great speed—in a moment of otherworldly quietude and repose.

Maya Lin, Blue Wave, 2013, crystal, 1-1/2" x 14" x 14-1/2" (3.8 cm x 35.6 cm x 36.8 cm)

Maya Lin’s work often examines processes of geologic time and topological transformation that occur so slowly, they appear almost still. Her work approaches nature as an environmental system to which we all belong, while drawing on the language of Minimalism to evoke the visual essence of natural forms without depicting them directly. Blue Wave (2013) captures undulating waves in blue crystal, resembling the rippling surface and luminous reflection of a body of water as if frozen in time, while echoing the monumental forms of her site-specific earthworks.

Brice Marden, Untitled, 1973-1974, ink on paper, 13-3/4" × 16-3/4" (34.9 cm × 42.5 cm)
Kiki Smith, Summer, 2008, ink, glitter, mica, and pencil on Nepalese paper, 20" × 30" (50.8 cm × 76.2 cm)
“My work has always been involved with nature, no matter how abstract. Sometimes it's more formal and less involved with the real world. But there's always been some sort of involvement with nature.”

Brice Marden

Through the palpable physicality of mark-making, Marden’s untitled drawing suggests the forces of nature, transforming a rectangle—the most elemental building block of architecture but also the basic grammatical unit of minimalism— into a locus of energy, a kind of battery for frenetic vision.

Kiki Smith, meanwhile, figures nature as an illuminating and animating presence—a mysterious wellspring of vitality, spirit, and thought. Her delicate drawing of a lightbulb suspended from a tree branch suggests the tree itself as a source of energetic luminosity. The distressed surface of the paper reminds us that paper itself is a material composed of trees—one of their many gifts to us.

Sol LeWitt, Horizontal Lines on Color, 2005, gouache on paper, 45" x 45" (114.3 cm x 114.3 cm)
“As with the wall pieces, the gouaches have had their own organic development, I try to make them as part of the ritual of my life.”

Sol LeWitt

Richard Tuttle, basis68, late 1970s, ink and tape on paper, 6" × 4" (15.2 cm × 10.2 cm)

Richard Tuttle’s work also draws deeply on nature through a spare vocabulary of poetic geometries. His basis drawings of the 1970s, which celebrate the exquisite delicacy of line as an elemental form, reflect the artist’s early efforts in articulating an idiosyncratic language of Post-Minimal art, which has proved particularly influential for contemporary sculpture. The reductive lyricism of line recurs in the abstract horizontal waves of a late gouache by Conceptual-art pioneer Sol LeWitt—its serene stillness never ceasing to produce a restless sense of swimming opticality—but also in Harry Callahan’s exquisitely beautiful 1943 photograph of weeds emerging through snow.

Like the blades of grass emerging from the melting snow in Callahan’s photograph, Aiken’s Senlin reminds us that even in the midst of a long dark winter, there is still the promise of spring. Nature’s beauty remains inexhaustible despite the vicissitudes of the world. “I stand on a star unstable,” Senlin says, and yet art—like poetry— provides an anchor. It leads us back to ourselves and to each other, grounding us in the sensuous joys of simple rituals, the endless possibilities of stillness, and the unending mysteries of each new day.

Harry Callahan, Weeds in Snow, Detroit, 1943, gelatin silver print, 5-3/4" × 7-3/4" (14.6 cm × 19.7 cm), image 8" × 10" (20.3 cm × 25.4 cm), paper

It is morning, I awake from a bed of silence,
Shining I rise from the starless waters of sleep.
The walls are about me still as in the evening,
I am the same, and the same name still I keep.
The earth revolves with me, yet makes no motion,
The stars pale silently in a coral sky.
In a whistling void I stand before my mirror,
Unconcerned, and tie my tie.

Conrad Aiken, from “Senlin: A Biography” (1918)

Conrad Aiken’s poem “Senlin: A Biography” first appeared in The Charnel Rose, Senlin: Biography, and Other Poems, published by Four Seas Press in Boston, 1918.

(opens in a new window) Click here to read Aiken’s poem in full.

To inquire about any of the works featured in this exhibition, please email inquiries@pacegallery.com.
  • Past, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Mar 31, 2020