DON DUDLEY Modular Spaces

Galerie Thomas Zander presents the first comprehensive exhibition of Don Dudley’s works of the 1960s and 1970s in Europe. His work had already been shown in solo exhibitions in renowned museums like the MoMA PS1 and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, when Dudley retreated from the public view during the 1980s until his work was rediscovered in 2011.

Don Dudley (born in Los Angeles in 1930) produced his first works in the style of the so called Finish Fetish. This movement evolved in Los Angeles during the 1960s in reaction to the gestural painting of Abstract Expressionism and concurrently with the Minimalism that emerged in New York. The colours and textures of Finish Fetish works are connected to the time and place of their origin and bear references to Californian culture and the environment of the American West Coast. They visualise the specific kind of light over the Pacific, the desert and the glamour of Hollywood. The artists used various newly developed materials such as synthetic resin, polyester, or varnish and had a strong interest in handmade objects, which nevertheless have an industrial character and bear no trace of an artist’s signature. Particularly the surface texture of the works contradicted the emotionally charged brushstroke and subjective attitude of artists like Jackson Pollock or Robert Motherwell. The viewing experience of complex, monochrome surfaces and minimalist forms became the central aspect of this style.

Don Dudley works with industrial construction materials like aluminium, other metals, and homasote, but he can originally be seen as a painter because colours and forms as well as compositions are the focus of his oeuvre. In his work, Dudley also recurs to Abstract Expressionism, the first genuinely American art movement, that sought to articulate the sublime. Especially Don Dudley’s wall installations on homasote draw on the Colour Field Painting of Kenneth Noland or Frank Stella. Works such as Red Corner or Green Triangle, parallel lines of tiles fixed to the wall, cause the exhibition space to vibrate with colours and exemplify the affinity to the American tradition of Colour Field Painting while showing formal references to Minimalism. Aluminium, a typical material of Minimal Art, as well as fiberboard and curved metal plates with acrylic varnish characterise his works and form various constellations of grids. The installations are accompanied by drawings and watercolours. The abstract compositions of the works on paper are reminiscent of a play of colours inspired by music. The artists plays on a keyboard of colours, which he continuously varies and accentuates. Don Dudley says about his work that he has always tried to operate below the threshold of consciousness and in the sense of producing a feeling of awe; the sublime. 

The interplay of object, surface, colour, and form in his works transcends the Minimalism of Carl Andre or Donald Judd by incorporating emotional qualities and complex optical effects. Dudley’s installations, featuring a vibrant or opaque palette in diverse geometrical arrangements, define the exhibition space. They never descend to the floor, but remain on the wall and have a direct effect on the room. Thus they put the viewer in an immediate relation to the work and the space and make them aware of their physical co-presence. The colours of the West Coast, which shimmer on the aluminium, are reminiscent of rainbows, sunsets, or mother-of-pearl, and speak of the place of their production. Any trace of emotion, or the existence of associations and connotations would have been unthinkable for Minimalists who were active in New York at the same time. It is part of the enduring quality and appeal of Dudley’s works today, which are not characterised by toughness, but by an intriguing interaction of formal rigour, aesthetic poetry and sheer visual experience. His oeuvre represents a historical dialogue of the minimalist practice at the US-American East- and West Coasts in the 1960s and 1970s. At the same time it addresses a new generation of internationally linked artists, who explore perfectionist textures and minimalist strategies again today.

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