Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Legacy Unfulfilled: Ted Stamm

[“Untitled” (1974), graphite & ticket stub. “Untitled” (1974), graphite on ticket stub. Four untitled works (1974), graphite on paper. “Untitled” (1976), graphite on paper. “Untitled” (1974), graphite on paper.]

Ted Stamm unexpectedly died at the age of 39 in 1984. In the 12 years preceding his untimely death, Stamm created a mature body of work—at once responsive to the past, reflective of his time, and telling of the future. Despite this impulse, viewing Stamm’s work calls forth his very process and medium: Stamm’s life, passions, and preoccupations are revealed with each geometric form and mark. When viewing Stamm’s work, one is immediately tempted to focus solely on its surface minimalism. Marianne Boesky Gallery is presenting its first exhibition of Ted Stamm with a Project show of works on paper through June 11, 2011.

Drawing was basic to Stamm’s practice: The graphite lent itself both to tight precise lines and emotive scribbles. After 1972, black dominated his work—both as an artistic investigation and for its popular connotations of nonconformity and rebellion. At the same time, Stamm explored reductive elements of line and form abstraction while seeking his sought-after and “perfect” flat and non-reflective shade of black. In so doing, he nodded to artists whose process he admired, like Abstract painter Ad Reinhardt (1913–1967)—noted for his “black” or “ultimate” paintings—and Frank Stella, significant for his place in minimalism and post-painterly abstraction.

Stamm dubbed his earliest black works “cancel” paintings—createing them by covering the surfaces of his colorful poured abstractions with a grid of black paint. Such gestural forms eventually yielded to more pronounced lines and geometry reflecting shapes striking Stamm in his daily environment. These shapes were given specific names with specific rules. “Woosters” combined rectangular and triangular shapes derived from forms he had seen on Wooster Street. Semi-circular “Dodgers” culminated in tilted rectangles. Named for the Brooklyn Dodgers, they were possibly derived from baseball field perimeters. “Zephyrs” referenced high speed trains, with their sleek, elongated cross shape.

An early experimenter with graffiti, Stamm discreetly stenciled his “Dodger” form on buildings that were meaningful to him. On subsequent visits, he added to the work until—in a fourth stage—his final work was carefully documented. In his “Tag Pieces,” Stamm further enumerated his life and art. Found tags were glued to identical sketch pads, with guests to his studio asked to mark the page as they wished. Stamm responded with his own mark in the other sketchbook. The resultant work memorialized this implicit “collaboration.”

While remaining true to minimalism’s basic tenets with his concern for space and the object, Stamm injected his own interest in advancement and movement, which reflected his boyhood fascination with cars, trains, and planes. Perhaps describing his own work best, Stamm said “it represents no beginning and no ending. This is my life.”

Stamm’s work is included in the collections of Brooklyn Museum, Carnegie Museum, (Pittsburgh), MoCA (Los Angeles), Phoenix Art Museum, The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art (Ridgefield, Conn.), MoMA, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Western Australia Art Gallery (Perth).

Ted Stamm: Works on Paper
509 West 24th Street, NYC 10011
Through Jun 11, 2011

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