It has been awhile since the hard-edge, geometric abstractions of minimalism dominated the painterly pantheon. So it is not surprising that artists would want to revisit the genre and push the simplicity of formalism into the spotlight again. As seen by the work of British artist Terry Haggerty in the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth’s current Focus show, it seems to make timely sense.
The flat planes of equally spaced monochromatic stripes on shaped canvases and boards or painted directly on the wall are much more than one-note ideas. There is an optic animation that is not evident in photographs. His paintings fairly writhe on the wall, giving the flat surface an unnatural topography of hills and valleys.
The stripes narrow to wicked little end tails that seem to wrap the rounded edges, only there are no rounded edges. The shapes that support the painting accentuate the linear movements as in Out of Light, a black-on-black banding across a chubby torso-shaped canvas reminiscent of a Herve Leger bandage dress. Even the small canvases, such as Transverse in flaming fluorescent pink, have a patterned rigidity that soon bends into ribbon candy swirls.
Haggerty closely guards the recipe of his process. There is some hand drawing in the beginning, some computer help to get the designs to fit the room correctly, such as his wall-size, site-specific metallic gold piece, Untitled. It’s a stencil, but the last steps of taping and painting are done by hand. There is a top layer of varnish that gives the surfaces a highly waxed look. Again, he doesn’t share how that particular effect is achieved, but it makes the surfaces as slick as Formica and negates any evidence of the fabric or wall texture underneath.
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Viewing Haggerty’s work is an optical challenge. The mind wants to sort what the eye is recording, but what you see and what you know are often at odds. The harder you look, the more the lines move. Fight it and Haggerty’s paintings fight back. Relax and enjoy the ride and it makes for a pleasurable experience.
This exhibition of hard-edge minimalism could be the Modern’s way of priming the visual pump for a huge exhibition of Frank Stella’s paintings coming in 2015. Stella’s shaped and multi-hued geometrics are the predecessors of Haggerty’s monochromatic ones. It seems as if the Modern recognized the timing was right for a hard-line resurrection, as there is more to come.