Sarah Morris, “Midtown Paintings: 1998–2001”

Art, Contemporary art
Sarah Morris, Midtown—Paine Webber Building (With Neons), 1998
Photograph: Courtesy Petzel Gallery Sarah Morris, Midtown—Paine Webber Building (With Neons), 1998

Morris could be described as a sort globalist flâneur, strolling the boulevards of cities from Beijing to Abu Dhabi to capture impressions of these locales in magisterial videos and vividly colored, geometrically abstract canvases. According to the artist, the latter represent visual algorithms meant unlock the “code” of each place—which is to say, its respective role in sustaining neoliberalism’s grip on the international economy. However eye-catching, though, these paintings are usually too thin and decorative to carry the weight of their intended meaning. An exception may be this series from the 1990s, which represent Morris’s first forays in this vein. Inspired by the area surrounding her studio at the time (which was situated near Times Square) Morris created these gridded compositions recalling the glass curtain wall facades of various midcentury towers along Park and Sixth Avenues. Canted at angles to suggest neck-craning points of view, the paintings are at once a Broadway Boogie–woogie–style celebration of New York’s energy and an elegy for a city whose cultural dominance was beginning to slip away in the face of a new world order.

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