New York, NY – March 24, 2023 – 125 Newbury proudly presents Sylvia Plimack Mangold, the first solo exhibition of new work by this pioneering figure in the history of post-1960s art since 2018. The exhibition debuts a suite of fifteen paintings and works on paper that Mangold has created over the past five years, all of which depict the maple tree outside the window of her studio in upstate New York. The exhibition, which will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with a new essay by John Yau and an interview with the artist, opens to the public on April 14th and runs through June 3rd. A public reception will take place on Thursday, April 13th from 5pm to 8pm.
For more than four decades, Sylvia Plimack Mangold has been painting the trees that surround her home and studio in Washingtonville, New York. Known since the 1960s for developing a singular visual language rooted in figuration, Mangold’s paintings boil down nature to its purest ether. For over a decade, the large maple tree growing directly outside her studio window has provided Mangold with her exclusive subject. Describing the visual splendors of the tree as it changes over the course of days, weeks, months, and seasons, Mangold’s paintings are portraits of time’s passage. Her winter paintings reveal the complex latticework of the tree’s denuded branches against a bleached blue sky; while the summer and autumn paintings are dense vignettes of foliage rustled by the wind, rendered in virtuosic passages of color and brushwork that teem with restless movement.
In his essay for the exhibition catalogue, John Yau describes Mangold as “preternaturally sensitive to the nuanced relationship” between painting and subject. “By cropping her views so that viewers do not see the entire tree or by zeroing in on a grouping of leaves,” writes Yau, “Mangold counterbalances the image of the artist as omnipotent author. We can know only part of the world and we can only see it incompletely.” In this sense, Mangold’s subject is the act of perception. Her paintings investigate how we see, and the nature of sight and subjectivity itself.
Mangold’s unflagging dedication to an incredibly focused body of imagery over such a long period of time—coupled with her ability to create an atmosphere of almost ontological contemplation—recalls artistic forbears Paul Cézanne and Giorgio Morandi. A single painting can take the artist over a year to complete, as she returns each day to find the tree slightly changed: its leaves blown in a different directions, or beginning to change color or fall; its branches having grown slightly, their tips beginning to bud in spring, or the color of the bark changing as the temperatures drops in winter.
"By cropping her views so that viewers do not see the entire tree or by zeroing in on a grouping of leaves, Mangold counterbalances the image of the artist as omnipotent author. We can know only part of the world and we can only see it incompletely.” John Yau
Mangold’s paintings stage an uncanny intimacy between viewer and tree. “Sylvia assembles her trees with an extraordinary inventory of marks achieved through a lifetime of experimentation,” writes 125 Newbury director and Pace Gallery founder Arne Glimcher in his introduction to the catalogue, “She has painted the same tree for decades, but the subject of her paintings is not the tree. The subject is the process of painting. Neither abstract nor figurative, her Leaves in the Wind are as concrete as the stripes of Agnes Martin. … For all their intense observation and painterly activity, her paintings remain radically quiet pictures.”
In 1960s and 1970s, Mangold began making meticulously rendered images of inlaid wooden floors, observing with dazzling verisimilitude the grain of the wood and the effects of sunlight falling on its surface. Her paintings of floors led to images depicting the tools of her craft—rulers and tape—which dealt with reflection, transparency, and the powers of painting to transcend representation. In 1971, Mangold moved upstate, and in the ensuing decade she turned toward the landscape as a subject. During this time, her paintings became increasingly concerned with trees. In the 1990s, she began to focus on two trees in particular: a pin oak that grows next to her pond on one end of her property, and a maple tree that looms up directly outside her home and studio.
In her Leaves in the Wind series and her images of the leafless winter maple, time remains the central subject of Mangold’s work. Her trees are like visual and sensory clocks: they capture the feeling, texture, and sensuousness of nature as a force of constant and unceasing change. As rejoinder and antidote to the primacy of photography in our contemporary world, Mangold’s paintings offer new ways of experiencing time’s passage through stillness. Mangold thinks of her works not merely as depictions of trees and tree-ness; instead, while she paints, she “builds” the tree limb by limb, a process whose slowness allies it with the pace of a tree’s growth. The timescale of the painting and the tree’s own rhythms are brought into harmonious alignment, so that each brushstroke feels as if it is taking shape at the pace of the tree itself.
“The act of choosing a single tree and painting it again and again is a profoundly Zen-like activity,” writes Glimcher in the exhibition catalogue, “It evokes the way a monk might paint a single calligraphic form for their entire life. Or rake a garden of sand. There’s something bordering on the spiritual about such sustained dedication to a single activity.” The artist herself has acknowledged the meditative quality of her process. For her, the act of painting has an almost palliative power: it is an opportunity not only to revel in the visual splendor of the everyday, but to seek out and discover the plenitude of joy that resides in the act of making.
Sylvia Plimack Mangold (b. 1938, New York) graduated from Yale University School of Art (BFA, 1961) after studying at Cooper Union. She lives and works in Washingtonville, New York.
The artist began exhibiting her paintings in the late 1960s, and her work has been the subject of more than thirty solo exhibitions, including three museum surveys each accompanied by a monograph: Madison Art Center (1982), Wesleyan University and University of Michigan (1992), and Albright-Knox Art Gallery (1994). Solitaire, a 2008 exhibition at the Wexner Center for the Arts, included approximately twenty paintings by Plimack Mangold in juxtaposition with bodies of work by Lee Lozano and Joan Semmel. A solo exhibition of her work was shown at Alexander and Bonin, New York in the Spring of 2012.
In 2013, Plimack Mangold had a solo exhibition, Landscape and Trees, at the Norton Museum of Art. This was the first museum exhibition on Plimack Mangold’s paintings of individual trees, all of which are painted from direct observation and included work from 1977 to the present. A solo exhibition of recent paintings based on the same subject opened at Alexander and Bonin in May 2017. In 2022, Plimack Mangold exhibited recent works alongside paintings from the 1970s in three curated exhibitions inspired by Hannah Arendt, Lucy Lippard and painting in New York from 1971-1982.
Many of Plimack Mangold’s paintings are in permanent museum collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Art Institute of Chicago; Dallas Museum of Art; Detroit Institute of Art; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Indianapolis Museum of Art; Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City; Milwaukee Art Museum; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City; Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University; and Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland.