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A Closer Look at Rackstraw Downes: A Wider View


In a new film titled Rackstraw Downes: A Wider View / A Conversation with Robert Storr, the preeminent curator, Robert Storr, discusses Downes's career with Andrea Packard, the List Gallery director and curator of the List Gallery survey exhibition of Downes's work. Created and edited by Packard, and lasting approximately 50 minutes, the film explores Downes's accomplishments as one of the world's foremost painters. Storr offers an appreciation of the artist's career over five decades and places his perceptual approach in the context of varied artistic traditions, including Minimalism, Romanticism, and Realism, as well the current COVID-19 pandemic. Storr also describes some of the ways Downes has radically redefined landscape painting, both in America and internationally, by making viewers understand their participation in completing the works, and reminding us, "Do not take for granted what you see."  Downes's empirical approach, which he refined over five decades, may feel familiar, but closer inspection shows it to be more complex, nuanced, and relevant than ever— especially during the current pandemic, when evidence-based reasoning has become increasingly important.  After Storr's planned gallery talk was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he generously completed this project with Andrea Packard over several weeks using Zoom.

Robert Storr is an artist, critic, curator, and the author of numerous numerous books, catalogs, essays, and reviews. From 1990 until 2002, first as curator and then as senior curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York,he organized numerous exhibitions, including Modern Art Despite Modernism and retrospectives of Tony Smith, Chuck Close, Gerhard Richter, Max Beckmann, and Elizabeth Murray. In 2002, he was named the first Rosalie Solow Professor of Modern Art at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. From 2006 to 2016, he served as the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Dean of the Yale University School of Art. In 2007, he became the first American artistic director of the Venice Biennale. His many awards include two medals from the French Ministry of Culture, five honorary doctorates, including one from Swarthmore College, a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, a Penny McCall Foundation Grant for painting, and a Norton Family Foundation Curator Grant.

Another online offering, a 30-minute podcast titled Rackstraw Downes: A Closer Look, offers a more intimate and informal appreciation of the works' thematic and formal concerns. Created by List Gallery Assistant Tess Wei, the podcast features Wei and Packard discussing the 23 paintings that comprise Rackstraw Downes: A Wider View. A video montage of the installed paintings accompanies the podcast and reflects artist's intense focus on the appearance, history, and evolving character of his chosen subjects, be they farmlands in Maine, underpasses or architectural interiors in Manhattan, or landfills in New Jersey

Rackstraw Downes: A Wider View, and all online documentation were made possible by the Donald J. Gordon Visiting Artist Fund and the ongoing support of the Gordon Family. An accompanying catalog, with essays by Andrea Packard and Alfred Mac Adam, was made possible by the Kaori Kitao Endowment for the List Gallery and additional gifts from Kaori Kitao, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor Emerita of Art History, Swarthmore College.

Artist's Biography: Rackstraw Downes was born in England in 1939. He received a BA from Cambridge in 1961 and a BFA and MFA from Yale University in 1963 and 1964 respectively. He became a United States citizen in 1980. He is the recipient of the Guggenheim (1998) and MacArthur (2009) Fellowships, and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1999). A retrospective, Rackstraw Downes: Onsite Paintings, 1972-2008, was organized by the Parrish Art Museum in 2010. It traveled to the Portland Museum of Art, in Portland, Maine, and the Weatherspoon Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. Notably, in 2009, he delivered the Ninth Annual Raymond Lecture for the Archives of American Art; in 2011, he participated in a Wyeth Foundation for American Art Conference at the National Gallery of Art, entitled Landscape in American Art, 1940-2000, where he delivered the address “From There to Here”; in 2012, he was featured on PBS’s critically acclaimed Art 21 series; and in 2015, he delivered the inaugural Betty Jean & Wayne Thiebaud Endowed Lecture at the University of California, Davis.

 Downes’s essays have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Art in America, ARTnews, and Art Journal. In 2014, Edgewise Press published a collection of his essays titled Nature and Art Are Physical: Writings on Art, 1967- 2008. Other publications by the artist include Under the Gowanus and Razor-Wire Journal (Turning the Head Press, 2000); In Relation to the Whole: Three Essays from Three Decades–1973, 1981, 1996 (Edgewise Press 2004). Downes introduced and edited, Fairfield Porter: Art in Its Own Terms (Zoland Books, 1979, reprinted by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2008). Rackstraw Downes, a monograph with essays by Robert Storr, Sanford Schwartz and Rackstraw Downes, was published by Princeton University Press in 2005.

Downes is also the subject of the film Rackstraw Downes: a painter, by Rima Yamazaki (40 mins.). Robert Sullivan's review, “A Film About the Painter Rackstraw Downes,” was published in The New Yorker in September 21, 2018 and Chris Packham's article, “Patient and Transcendent, ‘Rackstraw Downes: A Painter’ Honors the Act of Creation,” was published in The Village Voice in April 26, 2017.

The accompanying video includes selected installation shots and close-ups from the List Gallery exhibition, Rackstraw Downes: A Wider View. We invite you to watch the video as a supplement to the podcast.

A podcast with Andrea Packard and Tess Wei: A Closer Look At Rackstraw Downes

A podcast with Andrea Packard and Tess Wei: A Closer Look At Rackstraw Downes
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