For the run of the exhibition, SVA Close Up is highlighting members of the SVA community selected for the 2014 Whitney Biennial (March 7 – May 25). This is the third installment in the series.
The prominence of abstract paintings in the 2014 Biennial has been noted by some reviewers as a compelling update to a historical form. Hrag Vartanian, editor-in-chief of Hyperallergic, recently wrote, “I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen such a boisterous conversation between contemporary female painters in a major museum.” Contributing to this conversation is MFA Fine Arts faculty member Suzanne McClelland (MFA 1989 Fine Arts), who has two works on view in this year’s Biennial.
Her diptych, Ideal Proportions (Steve and John), depicts, according to Whitney.org, “strings of digits representing the ideal male proportions according to the influential bodybuilders Steve Reeves and John McCallum.” McClelland’s Ideal Proportions (Squeeze—a winning hand) also takes the idea of measurement as a jumping off point for exploring abstract painting’s relationship to the body. McClelland’s paintings are large, with sweeping gestural marks and looping brushstrokes—it is clear that her own body was fully active in their construction. Physical strain is evinced in curves, textures and forms that illustrate the idea of proportion through abstraction. In their expressiveness, these paintings are artifacts of the body’s aversion to quantification.
McClelland describes her interest in abstraction in a 2012 interview in BOMB, “the stain, smudge, or spray seemed close to the way a body can draw, write, or speak.” Additionally, from the Whitney Biennial 2014 catalog, “I am drawn to abstraction in painting because it offers opportunity to search for flexible patterns of reading. There is no primary figure to lead the way in abstraction, nothing to reflect the viewer—entry and exit are optional and less fixed.”
Image: Suzanne McClelland, Ideal Proportions (Steve and John), 2013. Charcoal, dry pigment,
polymer, and spray paint on portrait linen, 84 x 144 in. (213.4 x 365.8 cm) Collection of the artist; courtesy Team Gallery, New York and Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago. Copyright Suzanne McClelland. Photograph by Isabel Asma Penzlien.