Oct 7th—November 13th, 2010
This exhibition evolved out of the desire to present an overview of the life and work of Robert Swain. Rarely are we given the opportunity to examine a life so completely dedicated to the making of paintings. Swain works outside the main currents of contemporary concerns, yet he numbers among the most significant color painters of his generation and he enjoys a distinctive place in the recent history of painting. As an artist/teacher he also lives in the hearts and minds of his students. With this exhibition, I hope not only to encourage appreciation of his art, but also to spur interest among viewers in developing a deeper visual intelligence and in exploring a newer and more informed realm of color. In recent years, inquiries related to psychology and perception have extended into visual and neural phenomena that allow for a revision of past color concepts. This study can stimulate a better understanding of our emotional and intellectual responses to color, causing radically new modes of color expression. The inventions of Swain’s work—spanning well over four decades of uninterrupted inquiry—are astounding, and the compelling power of his art is manifest throughout his life’s work. Swain’s consistent investigation of color in painting, marked by an exacting quest for the real, is inspirational. Continuity, cyclical progression, and interrelatedness determined the selection of the works for this exhibition, which opens with a work from 1973, goes back as far as 1969, covers the 1980s and 1990s, and ends with a spectacular new body of work, presented here for the first time, that has preoccupied the artist since 2006.
Assembling a group of works to represent such a long and distinguished career was a daunting task. I consider myself very fortunate to have had the support and counsel of many individuals. Of paramount importance was the artist himself, Robert Swain. I have benefitted from his teaching, guidance, and advice and I am most grateful to him. I also extend my gratitude to his wife, Annette Leibel, for her steadfast support. Many thanks go to Bob’s assistants, former students all, who serve in apprentice- like fashion with spirit, great skill, and tireless devotion: Dan Crews, Changha Hwang, Pierre Obando, Shawn Powell, and Yao Zu Lu.
During the early stages of this project, several MA/MFA students in my graduate seminar, Jenny Liu, Teri Lehner, and Rachel Stokoe, helped immensely by probing the concept with me, conducting research, and developing and implementing an independent website that has since merged with the artist’s site: www.robertswainnyc.com.There,you will find additional information above and beyond what is included in this publication.
For their generous donation in support of all aspects of this exhibition we thank the Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason Foundation most sincerely. In addition, our deep gratitude goes to the Friends of the Gallery who, under the leadership of Phyllis and Joe Caroff, gifted funds to support the design and printing of the exhibition catalogue. We would like to acknowledge that without the support of all our donors this exhibition could not have been realized.
At Hunter, we would like to thank President Jennifer J. Raab. Further, thanks are due to the Gallery Committee; Thomas Weaver, Executive Director and Chair of the Department of Art; Joachim Pissarro, Bershad Professor of Art History and Director of the Galleries; and Kimberly Watson, Major Gifts Officer in the Office of the President. For her thoughtful suggestions, guidance and ceaseless effort we are deeply grateful to Tracy Adler, Curator. And thanks also to Phi Nguyen, preparator par excellence.
Thanks to the outstanding teamwork of video maker Peter Canale and his director, Rachel Stokoe, who produced a valuable and engaging visual record for us.
It is a pleasure to thank those who worked on the catalogue: Jenny Liu for writing the bibliography and Teri Lehner for her cheer and diligence in writing the chronology and exhibition record. Matthew Deleget proved an excellent and perceptive interviewer. Thank you to editor Brian Sholis, whose thoughtful help and suggestions strengthened the texts, and a special thanks to Tim Laun for the clarity and balance of his book design. I am also grateful to Sanford Wurmfeld, who, with Thomas Weaver, wrote his special appreciation of the Friends of the Hunter College Art Galleries and its superb leaders Phyllis and Joseph Caroff; thank you for responding in a supportive and most collegial manner at critical moments.Finally,William C.Agee,Evelyn Kranes Kossak Professor of Art History, contributed a thought- provoking, sensitive, and profoundly informative essay. I am deeply grateful to him.
Associate Professor of Art