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Only artists could love grids. To people with real jobs, ‘grids’ just make us think of endless, soul-destroying Excel spreadsheets, or traffic, or prisons. But not artists. In their hands, the grid is a modernist tool for composing abstract paintings, a way of structuring a work of art in a more formal, less gestural way; a formula for art, not spreadsheets.
It’s been like that for almost a hundred years, and the art brought together in this little summer show unites artists from the ’60s through to today who mess with the grid format. The idea is that the grid is a sort of conceptual jungle gym for artists to play with – the same way you’d fanny about on monkey bars, they swing about visually on the grid. Hey, it’s not how I’d spend a Friday night, but it works for them.
There’s some gold here. The early Ed Moses works (from the 1970s) look like prehistoric maths homework, unearthed from the primordial sludge; Daniel Sturgis’s eye-wobbling op-art checkerboard paintings will leave you wincing and your brain spasming; and one of the Joan Snyder paintings looks like a grid has melted and dripped down the canvas. Probably the best thing here is the ultra-simplistic Mary Heilmann pink work, like Tetris blocks frozen in time. Less impressive is Rachel Howard’s big splodge of wallpaper.
But throughout the show, there’s a sense of artists cutting loose and playing around by pulling at the threads of formality. Sure, seeing simple, serious abstract paintings as any kind of ‘play’ is a bit of a leap, and realistically this isn’t the world’s most thrilling show, but the artists’ abandon is infectious. As long as you can forget the spreadsheets.