Taking a monochromatic grey palette as its organizing principle, Luxembourg & Dayan’s upcoming exhibition Grisaille will explore the conceptual impact of a centuries-old painting paradigm upon key figures of modern and contemporary art. In addition to a concise selection of rare historical works, including a pair of 16th century panel paintings by the Workshop of Albrecht Dürer, Grisaille will include more than 30 seminal pieces by artists as diverse as César, Glenn Brown, Vija Celmins, Pablo Picasso, Gerhard Richter, Rudolf Stingel, Betty Tompkins, and numerous others whose investigation of the monochrome palette and classical techniques have brought the vitality of grisaille’s history into the 21st first century.
Grisaille will unfold across two locations on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. One portion of the exhibition will open in London on October 9, 2011, inaugurating Luxembourg & Dayan’s new viewing space at 2 Savile Row. The balance of the exhibition will be unveiled in New York City on November 7th, filling the gallery’s Upper East Side townhouse. Grisaille will remain on view in both venues through January 14, 2012.
Grisaille is the second in a series of thematic survey exhibitions at Luxembourg & Dayan to be organized by curator and writer Alison Gingeras, exploring specific trends in modern and contemporary art. The show will present works on loan from significant private collections, and from the estates and studios of artists. On view will be numerous objects never before exhibited publicly. Among these are new works by Richard Prince and John Currin, an the 1968 Jasper Johns painting “Screen Print 5,” loaned to Grisaille by the artist from his own collection.
Gerhard Richter has said of the color grey, “Its inconspicuousness gives it the capacity to mediate, to make visible, in a positively illusionistic way, like a photograph. It has the capacity that no other color has, to make ‘nothing’ visible.” Through the historical lens of this restrained hue, Grisaille will present works by a startling array of artists who have made interpretation of grisaille technique a central part of their oeuvre.
The grisaille method itself was popularized first in Europe during the 14th century, when artists often deployed grayscale paintings to imitate sculpture. Giotto used grisaille for the lower registers of his renowned frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy; Robert Campin, Jan van Eyck, and other key figures of the Northern Renaissance used grisaille figures on the outer wings of triptychs in order to imitate the look of stone and create the illusion of sculptural relief though painting. The convincing three-dimensionality achieved with figures rendered en grisaille continued to find favor in fine and decorative arts through the 18th century, and the technique became a popular preparatory tool for oil painters in the 19th century, permitting them to work out the modulation of shade and light in development of complex spatial compositions. With the proliferation of black and white photography in the late 19th century, and the 20th century’s emphasis on direct (alla prima) painting, grisaille evolved into a far more conceptual paradigm.
Artists as unalike in style and purpose as Lucio Fontana, Frank Stella, and Ryan Sullivan – all of whom will be represented in Grisaille - have deferred to a monochromatic grey palette as an agent of reflexivity in their work. Grey continues to facilitate the presentation of ideas and the exploration of surface, as well as providing a vehicle for meditation of color through the very absence color.
For the artists included in Grisaille, the color grey is more than merely a non-color: When they have combined black and white pigment to create grey, it has often been in order to evoke a wide scope of emotional, psychological, and spiritual states. Grey connotes estrangement, gloom, neutrality, rigor, seriousness, objectivity, gravitas, elegance, depression, practicality, and calm - to name but a few associative examples.