There is a diversity in the way people see. Some always see flat. Others always in perspective.
Gagosian is pleased to present new works by Robert Therrien. This is his first solo exhibition in San Francisco in more than twenty years.
Central to Therrien’s process is the repetition and refinement of found and invented forms. As he translates seemingly simple subjects from two to three dimensions or from small to large and back again, familiar images become oddly cryptic—like ambiguous linguistic units whose meanings shift depending on their placement and orientation. Entirely new motifs emerge from this process: renderings of a chapel evolve into an oilcan; snowmen become clouds; and a stork beak is echoed in the bent tip of a witch hat.
Attesting to Therrien’s interest in cartoons and animation (especially that of Max Fleischer), new works depict puffy cloud-like forms resembling smoke signals or thought bubbles. Therrien leaves the symbols’ meaning unclear, exploring their formal qualities instead, so that some clouds appear completely flat, like decals, and others more voluminous. For No title (black cloud mirror) (2016), he painted his iconic black cloud form on the back of a mirror after sanding away some of the silver to create an antique-looking surface. The mirror thus becomes an almost alchemical environment, as the viewer’s reflection coalesces with both the metallic haze and the black cloud within it. Therrien’s only other mirror work is from the 1980s and depicts a snowman: the cloud simply turned ninety degrees. The progressions in his fine-tuned symbolic vocabulary are epitomized further by a series of four wall reliefs—cutouts of a ranch house, a chapel, a pitcher, and a barn—hanging in silhouette.
Many of Therrien’s works are manifestations of his continued and in-depth explorations of everyday objects or images. His towers of kitchenware are modeled after the pots, pans, and dishes in his studio kitchen, and his beard sculptures began with his interest in representing Constantin Brancusi’s facial hair. Hanging from a cruciform armature, No title (plaster beard) (1999) simultaneously recalls classical sculpture, religious iconography, and Surrealist techniques of fragmentation and scale distortion. Adding to this sense of fantasy, No title (stork beak) (1999) is a softly lit photographic print that shows a long beak grabbing a white bundle, signaling the Greek myth of the queen Gerana, trying to steal her baby back from the goddess Hera, who had turned her into a stork.
Therrien’s engagement with folklore continues in No title (hands and tambourines) (2018), wherein three tambourines are activated by the inclusion of simply drawn hands on a bright blue ground, and No title (witch hat) (2018), a mysterious black sculpture that echoes the artist’s “bent cone” form from the 1980s. These works capture Therrien’s unique ability to unite geometric abstraction, perspectival illusion, and realism—oscillating freely between genres and cleverly erasing the lines between them.
Under the Table
Robert Therrien’s investigations of form, perception, and subjectivity often isolate recognizable elements and objects from everyday life. Blake Gopnik challenges the traditional readings of transformation and the purpose of scale in Therrien’s No title (folding table and chairs, green).
Alexander Wolf discusses the recurring themes and symbols that have emerged throughout Robert Therrien’s artistic career.
Saturday, March 30, 2019, 3pm
Gagosian, San Francisco
Join Gagosian for a private tour and in-depth look at Robert Therrien’s first solo exhibition in San Francisco in twenty years. In this exhibition of new paintings and sculptures, the artist pares down familiar forms such as smoke signals, stacked plates, and a witch hat to the point that they become symbols and silhouettes, underscoring the simple beauty and infinite meaning inherent in common objects. The tour, led by Graham Dalik, will consider Therrien’s continual reinvention of these motifs through shifts in medium, perspective, and scale. To attend the free event, RSVP to email@example.com.
Robert Therrien, No title (witch hat), 2018 © Robert Therrien/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Josh White