Since the mid-1990s, Sarah Morris has been internationally renowned for her films and abstract paintings derived from the urban environments of New York, Miami, Los Angeles and other places. In the paintings, she uses colors and geometries that she associates with a city's unique vocabulary and palette, architecture and, most importantly, its character and energy.
"Robert Towne," a temporary installation at Lever House commissioned by the Public Art Fund, is Morris's expanded variation on an abstract canvas from her recent 'Los Angeles' series (2004-06). Painted directly on the ground-level ceiling, "Robert Towne" covers the entire 19,744-square-foot cross section of the building, encompassing both its indoor lobby and outdoor courtyard.
Lever House, designed by Gordon Bunshaft and built between 1950 and 1952, is a quintessential example of the type of mid-century Modernist skyscraper that inspired the artist's first city series, 'Midtown' (1997-99). Morris depicted the building's monolithic blue-green glass and stainless-steel fa√ßade in two paintings in that body of work. Her engagement with architecture transcends physical characteristics to focus on the ways in which buildings and urban development reflect and shape human interaction and the global flow of power. When Lever House was completed, it was almost immediately welcomed as an iconic if controversial addition to Park Avenue.
The architect's unusual decision to give up valuable ground-floor square footage to create an open courtyard and pedestrian arcade was praised by some, while others criticized the area as being dark and unusable. In creating an artwork that dramatically alters the nature of Lever House's plaza, Morris observes and adds to the longstanding dialogue about corporate public/private spaces.
The work is named after Robert Towne, the legendary Hollywood writer, director, producer and actor, who is best known for his screenplays, which include "Chinatown" (1974), "Shampoo" (1975) and "Personal Best" (1982), and for being the script doctor behind such films as "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967) and "The Parallax View" (1974). His works are marked by their moral ambivalence, realistic dialogue and ruthless dissection of cruel or corrupt systems of social authority. Morris describes him as 'an elliptical figure' whose career exemplifies a certain characteristic mode of working in the film industry typified by collaboration, behind-the-scenes influence, and shared or changing roles.
In describing her paintings, Morris often refers to Venn Diagrams, the colored circle graphs in which overlapping areas indicate relationships between two or more sets of things. Like the works in the "Los Angeles" series, "Robert Towne" features intersecting lines and interconnected hexagons, forming a visual correlation to what Morris describes as the city's fluid and multifaceted power dynamic. With "Robert Towne," Morris maps the aesthetics of one city onto the architecture of another, linking the country's two cultural capitals and bridging the past decade of her work.
Sarah Morris was born in 1967. She was educated at Brown University (B.A., 1989) and Cambridge University (1987-88), and participated in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program (1989-90). She has had solo exhibitions at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam (2006), Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2005), Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2005), Kestner Gesellschaft, Hannover (2005), Kunstforeningen, Copenhagen (2004), Miami MOCA (2002), and Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (2001), among others. She lives in New York and London.
Richard D. Marshall, Curator
Works in the Exhibition:
ROBERT TOWNE, 2006
Acrylic on plaster, Dimensions variable
Lever House Art Collection, New York