Hedda Sterne review

4 out of 5 stars
Hedda Sterne review
Hedda Sterne 'Horizon XVIII' © The Hedda Sterne Foundation Inc, ARS, NY and DACS, London (2019). Image courtesy of Van Doren Waxter and Victoria Miro

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

All semi- or totally abstract paintings involving horizontal bands of naturalistic colours look like the sea. That’s the rule, right? You stare at the alternating thin and thick strips of blues/whites/beigey-yellows, take a calming breath, and go, ‘Ah yes, the sea – how lovely!’

Hedda Sterne’s paintings of horizontal stripes – completed in the early 1960s and shown as a group in this small exhibition alongside a set of works on paper – look like the sea. Sort of. That would actually be the easiest thing to say about them, to describe the cool oceanic tones interrupted by sunset-perfect golds and then throw in the word ‘seascape’.

But Sterne’s paintings aren’t simply sea-like. The artist is associated most with abstract expressionism. And although these works don’t possess the brashness characterising that movement, there’s a boldness here which makes them far too solid for a watery landscape allusion.

They look, instead, like intense close-ups of industrial architecture. A nosedive into a steel girder, a get-to-know-you with some copper piping. Or, in another instance, like the bed’s-eye-view of a white emulsioned skirting board sandwiched between swept floorboards and varnished wall panels.

If there is a coastal comparison waiting to happen, it would be fair to say they resemble the sea as viewed from a train window, with flood defence, rock, shingle and water blurring at speed into smooth, clearly delineated sections.

Sterne called four out of eight of these works ‘vertical horizontals’, the long narrow canvas slicing through the painted lines like a knife through a rainbow cake. Which invites the thought of what would happen if they were ‘horizontal verticals’. Mentally spin them 90 degrees (or I guess, if you own one, literally flip it around) and the marine qualities disappear altogether. Then they look like mossy green woods, black oily streaks and tarnished metal. Or, you can forget it all and just call it: the sea.


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