Exhibit News: "Less Is a Bore" at ICA, Boston

On view at ICA, Boston: Robert Zakanitch, “Big Bungalow Series III,” 1992, Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 30 ft. © Robert Zakantich, courtesy Artist Estate Studio, LLC

Less Is A Bore: Maximalist Art & Design

ICA, Boston

Jun 26-Sep 22, 2019

Less Is a Bore: Maximalist Art & Design brings together works in painting, sculpture, ceramic, dance, furniture design, and more that privilege decoration, pattern, and maximalism.

Borrowing its attitude from architect Robert Venturi’s witty retort to Mies van der Rohe’s modernist edict “less is more,” Less Is a Bore shows how artists, including those affiliated with the Pattern & Decoration movement of the 1970s, have sought to rattle the dominance of modernism and minimalism. Encouraged by the pluralism permeating many cultural spheres at the time, these artists accommodated new ideas, modes, and materials, challenging entrenched categories that marginalized non-Western art, fashion, interior design, and applied art.

How artists have used ornamentation to transform craft and design, feminism, queerness and gender, beauty and taste, camouflage and masquerade, and multiculturalism and globalism.

The exhibition considers how artists have used ornamentation, pattern painting, and other decorative modes to critique, subvert, and transform accepted histories related to craft and design, feminism, queerness and gender, beauty and taste, camouflage and masquerade, and multiculturalism and globalism. More recent artworks in the exhibition chart both the legacy and transformation of these trajectories.

Spanning generations, geographies, and traditions, Less Is a Bore includes works ranging from experiments in patterning by Sanford Biggers, Jasper Johns, and Miriam Schapiro to the transgressive sculpture and furniture of Lucas Samaras and Ettore Sottsass, to the installations of Polly Apfelbaum, Nathalie du Pasquier, and Virgil Marti.  Also included are works by Roger Brown, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Jeffrey Gibson, Valerie Jaudon, Joyce Kozloff, Robert Kushner, Ellen Lesperance, Sol LeWitt, Howardena Pindell, Lari Pittman, Pae White, Betty Woodman, and Robert Zakantich among others. 

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated publication with essays by Elissa Auther, Amy Goldin, and Jenelle Porter.

Exhibit News: "Pattern, Decoration & Crime" travels to Le Consortium

Install View at MAMCO featuring “Elephant Rose” by Robert Zakantich (left). Photo: Annik Wetter

Install View at MAMCO featuring “Elephant Rose” by Robert Zakantich (left). Photo: Annik Wetter

Pattern, Crime & Decoration

May 16 - Oct 20, 2019

Consortium Museum
37, rue de Longvic 21000

This exhibition is a joint collaboration with Lionel Bovier and the MAMCO in Geneva, where it was presented from Oct. 10, 2018 to Feb. 03, 2019.

Pattern, Crime & Decoration features the groundbreaking, artist-led American art movement Pattern & Decoration, which started in the mid-1970s and lasted until the mid-1980s. Often viewed as the last organized art movement of the 20th century, it chronologically straddles the end of modernism and the beginning of postmodernism, through its rejection of the rigid tenets of formalism and its embrace of decorative motifs and non-Western visual forms. Strongly grounded in feminism, it included many women artists and sought to highlight some kinds of arts and crafts often dismissed as belonging to the domestic or decorative sphere such as tapestry, quilting, wallpaper or embroidery.

Against the purist, prescriptive background of the dominant art forms of their time such as Minimalism and Conceptualism, Pattern & Decoration signaled the end of the reductivist arc of formalist modernism and the beginning of a new era, by freely and subversively borrowing from the formal vocabulary of Islamic art, Mexican and Indian cultures, or Roman and Byzantine mosaics, diverting the rigidity of the minimalist grid to create repeated patterns that boldly emphasized figurative tropes, bright colors, flowering outlines and arabesques. The movement, gathered around the writings of art critic Amy Goldin (1926-1978), was supported by art dealers Holly Solomon in New York and Bruno Bischofberger in Switzerland. Although Pattern & Decoration was critically and commercially successful at its inception, it faded from view after the 1980s.

In retrospect, it can now be viewed as a forerunner for many art currents that followed, with its use of deconstructed, loose shapes, interest in non-Western art, dazzling colors and mixed patterns used to reject the patriarchal, Eurocentric framework of modernism as embodied in Adolf Loos’s 1910 essay Ornament and Crime.

In this exhibition at the Consortium Museum, artists from the Pattern & Decoration movement are presented alongside forerunners like George Sugarman (1912-1999), an artist best-known for his colorful sculptures that at the time of their making escaped all categorization, “neither Pop nor Minimal” but were rather “maximalists” and which, in their refusal to conform to a prevailing type of art in the 1960s and 1970s anticipated the state of mind at the root of the Pattern & Decoration movement; as well as American and European artists from the same era whose work shares similar formal concerns, such as Lynda Benglis, Alan Shields, Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Claude Viallat or Simon Hantaï.

Artworks by Valerie Jaudon (b. 1945), Tony Robbin (b. 1943), Joyce Kozloff (b. 1942), Simon Hantaï (1922-2008), Joe Zucker (b. 1941), Mario Yrisarry (b. 1933), George Woodman (1932-2017) and Richard Kalina (b. 1946) examine the function of patterns in their repetition, deviations and repartition on a grid, which builds on the same formal organization principles as Minimalism but depart from the latter’s austere theoretical severity by following the influence of Non-Western arts and most specifically textile arts.

Pieces by Miriam Schapiro (1923-2015), Cynthia Carlson (b. 1942), Tina Girouard (b. 1946), Alan Shields (1944-2005), Robert Zakanitch (b. 1935), Claude Viallat (b. 1936) and Alvin D. Loving (1935-2005) share a common ground when recalling or being obviously inspired by quilting techniques––a traditional kind of vernacular, feminine craft—or by embroidery and sewing, and challenge formal considerations associated with modernism such as the flatness of painting by producing hybrid creations: cut-out backgrounds, fabrics hanging from the ceiling, and visual disruptions by juxtaposing various patterns. 

Other works display exuberant colors and formal compositions, whose exploration of decorative motifs recalls the importance of Henri Matisse and most specifically his famed paper cutouts, with Robert Kushner (b. 1949), Kim MacConnel (b. 1946), Betty Woodman (b. 1930), Brad Davis (b. 1942) and Marc Camille Chaimowicz (b. 1947) whose more recent work reactivates the legacy of Pattern & Decoration within the exhibition.

Other artworks are marked by opulence, baroque, glitter, and immersive spaces with Rodney Ripps (b. 1950), Ned Smyth (b. 1948), Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (b. 1948), Lynda Benglis (b. 1941) and Jennifer Cecere (b. 1950), with lush installations and pieces displaying colorful, ethereal fabrics and objects based on elements such as dollies and fans covered with ornamental motifs and patterns in saturated colors.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a comprehensive catalog with previously unpublished archival material.

Exhibit News: "Pattern, Decoration & Crime" at MAMCO Geneva

Robert Zakanitch,  Elephant rose,  1977-78, Acrylic on canvas, 97 x 139 in. (246 x 353 cm)

Robert Zakanitch, Elephant rose, 1977-78, Acrylic on canvas, 97 x 139 in. (246 x 353 cm)

Pattern, Decoration & Crime

10.10.18 - 2.3.19

Geneva, Switzerland

MAMCO examines in this large group exhibition the “Pattern & Decoration” movement, formed in the 1970s and that enjoyed international success in the 1980s, before fading in the decades thereafter. 

Most of the artists involved were reacting against the dominance of abstract schools in the post-War era, with a particular opposition to Minimal and Conceptual art. They also critiqued the pervasive dominance of Western art and male artists in the context of modernism as a whole. Including an equal number of men and women, the group organized around “pattern and decoration” reconnected with what was widely perceived as “minor” art forms and asserted decoration as the true repressed of modernity. 

Referencing ornamental motifs on wallpaper, patchwork quilts, or printed fabrics, the movement opened up Western art of the time to eclectic sources of inspiration: from Islamic decorative art, Byzantine and Mexican mosaics, to Turkish embroidery and Japanese prints, Indian rugs and Iranian miniatures. By creating works that blurred the boundaries between traditional paintings and decorative art objects, the movement’s artists—men and women alike—defined their position at the intersection between artistic disciplines, spearheading a critique of the traditional demarcation between the “fine” and “applied” arts. Finally, by reviving interest in long-undervalued crafts and asserting the right to bring these techniques out of the domestic sphere and into the public world of art, they held much in common with the Feminist art movement of the 1970s.

“Pattern & Decoration” is justly viewed as an overlooked movement, but it served nonetheless as a springboard for a number of contemporary practices: taking an essentially historical approach, the exhibition aims to re-evaluate the movement and reassess its contribution in light of contemporary art today.   

Essentially American, the “Pattern & Decoration” movement was supported by gallerists Holly Solomon in New York and Bruno Bischofberger in Switzerland, and was first formed by Valerie Jaudon, Tina Girouard, Joyce Kozloff, Robert Kushner, Kim MacConnel, Tony Robbin, Miriam Schapiro, Ned Smyth, Mario Yrisarry, and Robert Zakanitch, quickly joined by Cynthia Carlson, Brad Davis, Richard Kalina, and Jane Kaufman, and enlarging later to Rodney Ripps, Betty Woodman, George Woodman, and Joe Zucker.

MAMCO’s exhibition, co-organized with the Consortium in Dijon, also includes several pieces by artists associated with the Supports/Surfaces group, Noël Dolla and Claude Viallat, whose work has been widely revisited and reconsidered in recent years, together with works by Lynda Benglis, Jennifer Cecere, Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Sam Gilliam, Simon Hantaï, Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, Alvin D. Loving, Alan Shields, and George Sugarman.

  • Exhibition organized by Lionel Bovier, Franck Gautherot, and Seungduk Kim, in collaboration with Le Consortium, Dijon

  • The exhibition benefits from an United Way Worldwide Grant on behalf of the generosity of Soros Fund Charitable Foundation

Zakanitch works exhibited: Elephant Rose (1977-1978), Purple Braid (1978)

A letter from Zakanitch: Revisiting P&D

Robert Zakanitch in front of his "Big Bungalow Suite I," 1990-93, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 30 ft.

On the occasion of the opening of the exhibition Pattern and Decoration: Ornament as Promise at the Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst in Aachen, Germany, Robert Zakanitch a founder of the movement revisits the period in a statement updating his thoughts and relating it to his current work in the studio.

The Pattern & Decoration Movement

a revisiting essay by Robert Zakantich

In 1975 the P&D Movement (the supposed, movement that never was) changed deeply, psychologically and physically the direction of Arts mainstream (if not, eliminating it). With it came real alternatives and new paths but most of all: it gave the ‘permission’ to take them because now it revealed that there was actually a real beyond, beyond the concept of Formalism. The Movement ended over 150 years of reductive painting and the idea of 'less is more' and the 20th century' march to the 'deconstruction of all of the arts.

The many years spent moving through my personal formalism, Greenbergian, huge paintings of colors (and yet looking for another third subject matter), my paintings were very subtly, but constantly changing. It has been of interest to me that once young artists are recognized with a particular style they are expected to continue to paint similar paintings of similar style With me, even early on I felt there was always more. I eventually realized that making Art is forever on going and it is always waiting and wanting more.... and every artist knows there is always more to know… so I never could understand the idea of how or why I was expected to repeatedly paint the same work over and over again.

- - -

It was in my Pattern & Decoration works of the early 70s that I found the first steps of release from Formalism: but very grateful for it's insightful wisdom and a rich solid foundation, based on the beauty and purity of materials.

Up to that point in the history of Art we as artist had had only two choices of subject matter: Representational and then in the 20th Century, Abstraction. I for years was looking for a 3rd (which made me feel as if I was looking for a new, never before seen, color). Then, surprisingly, hiding at the very root of my P&D ideas was the discovery of this new third subject matter which ironically was rediscovered in the wonders of Ornamentation, a primal and exquisite subject matter that is always now somewhere at the core of my paintings. It had opened a profound 3rd door (or 3rd option) in the discussions of art making. All of this triggered the sensing of the beginning of a different kind of source from which art could be made, a source that was involved with feelings of compassion and empathy and inclusion no longer a separate thing removed from its audience. In this source, there is no need to feel apologetic for sumptuousness and sentimental sentiment.

My work now began to go far beyond Formalist mainstream concepts of 'painting about painting'. The rigid Mainstream parameters of the Modernist were exploded and became no longer the "mainstream" but a gushing river that simply swept away the restraints of 20th centuries Deconstructionism, Formalism, Minimalism and Conceptualism and the end to 'less is more', clearing the way to a boundless ‘beyond’ of glorious, 'more is more' and ending approximately 150 years of reductive art with things to feel and paint : delicate arbitrary patterns; an emphasis on design; designs from any culture in the world, folk art (subjects that were considered trivial and often referred to as low art.) . And of major importance was the re-embracing of the word, ‘Beauty’. A word, that had become taboo and disappeared from the art world in the late 19th Century and three/fourths of the 20th.

I began to feel a kind of ephemeral clarity of where I wanted to go. I had discovered and became aware of the enormity of what had been opened and felt the shift of priorities and the giddiness in the making of a fresh piece of Art. It could now be shockingly, soft and tender, sweet and romantic and often looked on as being too sentimental (like that’s a bad thing?!). Sentimentality beautifully exposes our humaneness. How amazing is that... and isn’t it wonderful, considering that that word, in these paintings, emit sentiments of comfort and caring and even joy, which are basic needs and feeders of hope and humaneness. It is wonderful to know that our species is, at its core, capable of exuding this tremendous force of a collective compassionate embrace).

A seemingly endless source of imagery became accessible to me - imagery that I loved and grew up with and lived with, slowly all this extraordinary imagery of great beauty that surrounded me was now becoming available for me -- patterns and designs of all countries, jewelry, old wall paper and 40s Armstrong linoleum (our Aubusson's). Rag rugs, lace and knitted and crocheted objects, rug stores, domestic objects used as charms and adornments found in junk stores, flea markets, yard sales, that now became my museums and galleries (of which I had stopped going to for a few years). The stifling limitation on what Art was supposed to look like and be, had finally lifted and I felt the parameters of painting expanding. I now was creating bigger boundaries and different limitations that offered more flexibility.

This ageless subject matter of ornamentation with its new fresh voice, including now all classes and away from the exclusivity of the world of Academia, and its stifling intellectualization that was never able to realize that making Art was not about how intellectual you were but rather about how to make your deepest feelings visual...

This recalls an incident with my grandmother and grandfather: One spring they decided it was time to re repaint the kitchen again, as they did every three years. They divided the walls horizontally into two colors. The bottom, 4ft high, or so, was a dark glossy brown and the top was a glossy cream. On the dividing line of the colors they applied a decorative stencil running completely around the kitchen. When I asked her why she did that her simple reply (in Slovak) was "because it’s beautiful". To this day I feel that her answer is still at the very center of all of Art making.

Also, not to be forgotten, our technology has advanced so rapidly, much faster than our emotional growth (which is a bit scary) also contributed to so much change. It has changed the role of the artist in society. We no longer have to be a reflector of society and all of its madness on this war planet because this technology does it so much better and faster. We now, almost instantly, know of any event that happens anywhere in the world within minutes It has shrunken the world to what Marshall McLuhan in the 60s called a ‘global village’. Now having been further released of the role of a reflector we can take on the role of a much needed director’ (which actually happened once before by the after the horrors of the first World War with the Dada Movement - artist turned their backs on the bestiality of man and made all things. that that generation took seriously into a joke and made mockery of).

As my fresh role as director I direct my work to assist in change, to heal, to-infer joy and empathy... and to evolve. Evolving away from our primal destructive instincts. Art is not passive. It plants seeds of optimism and compassion deeply into the human psyche .

So all that happened in the 70's to me...Oops, neglected to mention the big one, 'Meditation.' with its life changing awesome ability to create internal balance and an extraordinary sense of well-being. And finally here is now what is in the ether around us, that we live and breathe and create and participate in everyday and night:

The source that I work from now is so much broader and generous. It is no longer necessary to apologize for sumptuousness and sentimental sentiment but rather to embrace it; It is one that does not any longer speak of art speaking about itself, as a separate entity from its environment; It is a source that speaks of, Human things here and now’; It speaks of you and me and us and of our interconnectedness to each other and to all other things big and small; It speaks of new awarenesses made possible by quantum physics that speaks of the fact that in each of our cells is contained the entire history of the universe,'; it speaks of the binding concept of ‘string theory’ and 11 dimensions. It speaks of ‘life force’ and the exquisiteness of each of us, all with the capability not only to destroy but to heal; It speaks of the diagramming and mapping of the Genome; It speaks of vulnerabilities and civility; it speaks of humaneness; It speaks of balance and mending the firmament that is constantly being torn; It speaks of the extraordinary technologies that have reduced the planet to an encyclopedia of visuals and changed the lives of every being; It speaks of evolution and the possibility to evolve away from our war planet mentality; It speaks of the universe (and now universes?); It speaks of you and us and we and this universe as one living and breathing organism; It speaks of us and everything being made of the same organic material. It embraces everything in the All in which we live.

This is in the ether now (that began in the 70's – very different from what was gestating in the 50’s- 60’s.

-Robert Zakanitch, Yonkers, 2018

Robert Zakanitch, "Big Comet (Celestial Series), 2018, Gouache and white pencil on paper, 48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 152.4 cm), Collection of the artist

Robert Zakanitch, "Big Comet (Celestial Series), 2018, Gouache and white pencil on paper, 48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 152.4 cm), Collection of the artist

Studio notes: The Celestial Series

In the studio of Robert Zakanitch: The Celestial Series (in progress), December 28, 2017. Photo: Jason Andrew

In the studio of Robert Zakanitch: The Celestial Series (in progress), December 28, 2017. Photo: Jason Andrew

The Celestial Series

by Robert Zakanitch, Yonkers, 2018

View the series in its entirety here.

My new series is an extension of the In the Garden of the Moon paintings in that the subject matter now goes far beyond our galaxy into the vastness of the glorious visuals of the universe, as if floating quietly from one galaxy or nebula to another. I call it The Celestial Series and also too, like the previous series, are painted in the magical properties created by gouache on paper.

I think of the universe as one continuously moving pulsating life forces creating an endless, organic, breathing, whole. I think of the universe as our familiar place where we all live and contribute constantly to this organism, just by our being here exuding our own powerful individual life energies. Our planet and galaxy’s force contributes equally to the universes endless existence as any the other. It is the destined place in which we each all share our own physical life experience... that permanently etches our mark on the face of infinity simply because we are.

Works in The Celestial Series are paintings of these exquisite energies where all of this occurs. They are each paintings of sacred places of our many unseen life forces, sharing the DNA that we are all made of and intricately all interconnected by.

I feel it is this spectacular immensity with its exquisite beauty, now being observed, on and ,far beyond our gleaming whirling sapphire globe, elegantly and harmoniously working smoothly together, complimenting and causing each others movement, all the while, creating spectacular feasts of visuals like shining jewels of the night: shooting stars, lightening, comets, stars, moons, sun sets, sun rises, moon light, fire flies, fog, rain...

In other words they are paintings of, lives.

Robert Zakanitch, "Big Comet (Celestial Series)," 2018, Gouache and white pencil on paper, 48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 152.4 cm) Collection of the artist

Exhibit News: "Ornament as Promise" at Ludwig Forum Aachen

Robert Zakanitch, "Blue Hound," 1978, Acrylic on canvas, 70-5/8 x 118-1/8 in. (180 x 300 cm) Collection Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen

Robert Zakanitch, "Blue Hound," 1978, Acrylic on canvas, 70-5/8 x 118-1/8 in. (180 x 300 cm) Collection Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen

Pattern and Decoration

Ornament as Promise


Opening: Thursday, September 20, 2018, 7 pm

Patchworks and decorative patterns on the one hand and a political-emancipatory claim on the other – the Pattern and Decoration movement combines apparent contradictions. In the mid-1970s, the movement developed in the USA as one of the last art movements of the 20th century, in which the participation of women was as prominent as never before. The movement was supported among others by feminist artists, such as Joyce Kozloff, Valerie Jaudon, Robert Kushner and Miriam Schapiro. In reclaiming fantasy, color, variations of forms as well as sensuality, they radically distinguished themselves from the predominant Minimal Art and Concept Art at that time. The movement questions not only traditional notions of art, but also addresses broader political and social issues like the position of women, of Native Americans, or ethnic minorities in the global art scene. Pattern and Decoration represents a counter project to a male-dominated understanding of art that is globally influenced by the values of Western industrial states. The movement’s political and global aspiration is articulated through an aesthetic of captivating ease and seductive beauty: with works that celebrate sensuality, fantasy and color and through which social-critically contents, as well as an immediate lust for life, are conveyed.

The works of this movement have received little attention in Europe so far. The Ludwig Forum for International Art Aachen, home to the largest public European collection of Pattern and Decoration artworks, now undertakes a first comprehensive reappraisal and reassessment of the artistic movement through this exhibition and publication project.

The planned exhibition will present about 80 works altogether, showing the movement in all its diversity for the very first time in Europe: the spectrum of artistic forms ranges from mosaics influenced by oriental art, monumental textile collages, paintings, and graphic works through to room-sized installations and video performances. More recent works by Polly Apfelbaum, Christine Streuli, and Rashid Rana, among others, show how the achievements of Pattern and Decoration continue to resonate to this day in terms of both form and content. The movement’s interest in pictorial elements from non-Western art is more topical than ever, especially in light of the renewed discussion surrounding a “global art history” – a regular subject in major art shows like the documenta. If one moves beyond the notorious stigma of “ornament as crime” (Adolf Loos, 1908), it becomes easy to recognize that despite all their decorative effects, ornaments have always been symbolically important and crucial for expressing worldviews. To this very day, they still serve artists as a means to reflect on their own culture and criticize, for instance, political systems, the traditional roles imposed on women, social conventions and expectations.

After Aachen, the exhibition will travel to the mumok – Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, one of the main hubs of the art nouveau movement and thus of the ornament.

The publication accompanying the exhibitions will be published in both German and English by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, and provides a comprehensive review of the Pattern and Decoration movement based on extensive new scholarly research. It features contributions by Manuela Ammer, Esther Boehle, Michael Duncan, Holger Otten, and Anne Swartz as well as historical texts by Amy Goldin, Valerie Jaudon/ Joyce Kozloff and Harald Szeemann. Edited by Esther Boehle (Ludwig Forum for International Art Aachen) and Manuela Ammer (mumok – Museum of Modern Art Foundation Ludwig Vienna).

Artists of the exhibition: Polly Apfelbaum, Adriana Czernin, Brad Davis, Frank Faulkner, Tina Girouard, Dan Hays, Valerie Jaudon, Joyce Kozloff, Robert Kushner, Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, Kim MacConnel, Rashid Rana, Miriam Schapiro, Kendall Shaw, Christine Streuli, Ned Smyth, Lee Wagstaff, Heike Weber, Robert Zakanitch, Joe Zucker

Curator: Esther Boehle

Curatorial assistant: Denise Petzold

Supporters: With generous support of the Peter and Irene Ludwig Foundation, Terra Foundation for American Art, Stiftung der Sparda-Bank West

Pattern and Decoration. Ornament as Promise was initiated by the Ludwig Forum Aachen and implemented in corporation with the mumok – Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien.

In Focus: Zakanitch at Tyler Graphices (1979)


Originally published on www.kennethtylercollection.net on June 2, 2015

Robert Zakanitch – a key exponent of the 1970s Pattern and Decoration movement – arrived at Tyler Graphics in 1979 with little printmaking experience. Despite this, by 1981 he had produced six editions and two large series of unique paper pulp works featuring floral motifs and curvilinear forms in vibrant colours. The works continued Zakanitch’s exploration of ornamentation as a new subject matter, a framework he developed in opposition to the restrictive formal and conceptual concerns of contemporary painting. In excerpts from an interview with Curatorial Assistant Julia Greenstreet, Zakanitch reflects on his embrace of ornamentation in the 1970s and his experiences of working at Tyler Graphics Limited.

On ornamentation as subject matter…

I was rebelling against formalism. Ornamentation to me meant sensations, and rhythms and movements, and it was an extraordinary world to go into. I always thought there were only two doors to painting up to that point, and that was representationalism and in the 20th century, abstraction. They were the two basic things that all painting came out of.  I was looking for a third alternative or a third subject matter. I was going crazy at the time because [trying to find an alternative] was like trying to find another colour, it just didn’t exist. But I stumbled on it [ornamentation] and it became a very natural thing, to start thinking about ornamentation as a complete entity and a third door. Once that hit, all kinds of imagery started coming into the work. I stopped going to galleries and museums and instead visited flea markets and paint stores, wallpaper stores and linoleum stores, garage sales.


On working with paper pulp…

Paper pulp took away the precision of printmaking; you can do whatever you want, there are no mistakes. The idea of painting with your hands was so immediate. Once I started it felt very much like painting, you could smear it, throw one colour onto another, move it around. It was very flexible, which was important. I never planned those works [Double peacock series and Paper pulp series], that’s what I really loved. I wanted to extend the parameters of what to make and still make them beautiful. I wanted to be true to the fact that it was paper pulp and not a painting, not fool anyone. The works had holes and raw edges so you could see the process…I didn’t want a square piece of paper.


Memories of Ken Tyler…

Tyler was so great to work with because everything was at your fingertips; you never had to think about any kind of mixing, ‘where do I get paint’ etc. You could be totally focused on the image and the end result, it made it so simple.

I’m sorry that I never got back to work with Tyler again, it was such an awakening. I was scratching the surface with him. I didn’t know who Ken Tyler was [before working at TGL], I was so naïve. But I quickly got to know who he was. He’s brilliant. When you went to Tyler, you were it; he made you feel that everything was there for you. It was an extraordinary atmosphere that he created; I understand why everyone wanted to go there.

Kenneth Tyler with artist Robert Zakanitch. Courtesy Tyler Graphics

Kenneth Tyler with artist Robert Zakanitch. Courtesy Tyler Graphics

Exhibit News: Robert Zakanitch at Hudson River Museum


For 50 years Robert Zakanitch has explored color, line, and form with acrylic, watercolor, and gouache in artworks that are as ravishing as they are witty. Though his imagery varies—from abstract decoration to birds, angels, even author Jane Austen—Zakanitch has turned, again and again, to the shape and color of flowers to project these painterly motivations. In the mid-1970s, he became one of the founders of the Pattern and Decoration movement, a form of art inspired by graceful patterns of home furnishings traditionally associated with femininity. Rather than “art for art’s sake” that guided many artists from the late 19th century through 1960s Minimalism, Zakanitch embraced pattern for pattern’s sake while never losing sight of the fact that he was creating a painterly work of art.

Garden of Ornament focuses on Zakanitch’s shift from strict patterning to looking to the real world for inspiration, as witnessed in his monumental 1980s Platter series: “I started doing paintings that were influenced by the linoleum floors we had as kids—these big roses, and mostly flowers, and all these curlicues. I wanted to go in just the opposite direction of ‘less is more.’” Other paintings reveal his desire to convey the qualities of nurturing and civility through the decoration of objects associated with the home.

Review: Ornamentation Everywhere

Robert Zakanitch "Big Bungalow Suite IV," 1992-93, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 30 ft, Collection of the Artist. Photo: E. G. Schempf for The Nerman Museum

Robert Zakanitch "Big Bungalow Suite IV," 1992-93, Acrylic on canvas, 11 x 30 ft, Collection of the Artist. Photo: E. G. Schempf for The Nerman Museum

Painter Robert Zakanitch, master of the pattern and decoration movement, presents a bower of beauty at the Nerman Museum.

by: Alice Throson

Still lifes and flower paintings don’t usually summon adjectives like “rebellious,” “subversive” and “transgressive.” But spend a little time in “Ephemeral Beauty: Robert Zakanitch” at the Nerman Museum, and you may see the connection.

It’s a bower of a show, filled with mural-scaled evocations of lush organic growth, riotous color, exuberant brushwork and flowers, flowers, flowers. Yet there’s a lot more here than meets the eye.

For almost half a century, joy and beauty have been Zakanitch’s gift to the art world.

“Everyone is looking for the extraordinary, for the exceptional, for something beyond themselves,” Zakanitch has said. ”But everything around us— flowers, animals, the air, rain—everything, including ourselves, is a miracle. Especially color. It is all glorious.”

The exhibit, which ranges from the gigantic unstretched canvases of Zakanitch’s “Big Bungalow” paintings from the early 1990s, to the critically acclaimed “Hanging Gardens” series from 2010-12, marks a curatorial culmination for the museum’s executive director, Bruce Hartman, who first encountered Zakanitch’s work at the Greenberg Gallery in St. Louis, while a grad student at Wash U.

“I fell in love, Hartman said. “It was antithetical to everything I’d been studying—minimalism, conceptual art.”

Looking at these explosive patterned expanses of blossoms and bouquets, it’s hard to believe that Zakanitch’s aesthetic was once considered subversive.

But it was.

The exhibit includes "Wisteria I" and "Wisteria II" from the "Hanging Garden Series." Zakanitch's knowledge of flowers comes from extensive research. Photo: E. G. Schempf for The Nerman Museum

The exhibit includes "Wisteria I" and "Wisteria II" from the "Hanging Garden Series." Zakanitch's knowledge of flowers comes from extensive research. Photo: E. G. Schempf for The Nerman Museum

In the 1970s, Zakanitch, along with other artists who were part of what came to be known as the Pattern and Decoration movement—Miriam Schapiro, Kim McConnell, Joyce Kozloff, Robert Kushner— introduced an unapologetic beauty to an art world accustomed to the austerities of minimalism and  the ironies of  Pop.

The group’s wide-ranging sources and inspirations were just as radical for that time as their focus on pattern and ornament. As New York Times critic Holland Cotter enumerated in a review, “They looked at Roman and Byzantine mosaics in Italy, Islamic tiles in Spain and North Africa. They went to Turkey for flower-covered embroideries, to Iran and India for carpets and miniatures, and to Manhattan’s Lower East Side for knockoffs of these.”

High or low, it made no difference.  Allusions to folk art and the domestic realm—Oriental carpets, wallpaper books, chintz and linoleum, china dogs and other tchotchkes—all made their way into the P&D aesthetic, opening the door to a new valuing of the work of women and non-western artists, craft traditions and the decorative arts.

The critic John Perreault was one of the first to spot the deeper cultural implications of this shift in vocabulary, championing the work of Zakanitch and his fellow pattern painters as “non-minimalist, non-sexist, historically conscious, sensuous, romantic, irrational, and decorative.”

The Nerman exhibit coincides with a release of a new monograph on the artist, which delves into his experiments with Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting before taking the P&D plunge.

Although he rejected Abstract Expressionism’s macho ethos, Zakanitch maintained his commitment to a robust gestural vocabulary and grand, enveloping scale. Making for a knockout array in the exhibit’s first gallery, three 11-by-30-foot paintings from the “Big Bungalow Suite,” with their energetic, impastoed brushwork and pulsing rhythms, showcase the artist’s Ab Ex roots. Drips, splatters and exposed areas of raw canvas reflect Zakanitch’s interest in revealing process, a key part of his aesthetic, also inherited from Ab Ex.

But the motifs and patterns of the “Bungalow” paintings speak to much earlier experiences—memories of childhood visits to his grandmother’s home, filled with Czechoslovakian embroidery and floral-patterned linoleum.

Childhood memories also play a role in Zakanitch’s “Garden of Ordinary Miracles” series from 2008, gathered in the second gallery. The exhibit features six of these reinvented still lifes, executed in gouache and graphite on double panels of thick paper. Name your flower— iris, daisies, roses, zinnias, lilies, anemones — and you’ll find it here, gathered in exuberant bouquets in elaborately patterned vases.

Along the margins, Zakanitch includes charming drawings of two and four-legged critters, who express their delight in their garden surroundings with cheeps, croaks, and tweets, written beside them in penciled letters.  Recalling childhood summers in his grandmother’s vegetable garden, the artist treats them as friends, adding a fond label, “madam bug,” to his depiction of a lady bug.

Variants of all of these images can be found in a “Garden of Ordinary Miracles” alphabet book put out by Universe/Rizzoli in 2012. Zakanitch doesn’t need to cite climate change, habitat destruction or colony collapse for people to grasp the implications of his reader’s note:  “I believe the universe is one magnificent and ever-changing garden. … We have the privilege and vital responsibility to tend it and to tend it well.”

In 2010, Zakanitch returned to the use of all-over patterns in his “Hanging Gardens” series. Curtains of pendulous blue and lavender wisteria blossoms descend from ornamental trellis structures in Wisteria I and Wisteria II; in Blue Bottles, a lattice of delicate green stems holds hundreds of bell-shaped blue flowers inhabited by flickering fireflies.

“I love the life of flora. I love that energy,” Zakanitch said. “Flowers are always meaning well.”

Looking at these explosive patterned expanses of blossoms and bouquets, it’s hard to believe that Zakanitch’s aesthetic was once considered subversive.

Critics went wild for these works, employing adjectives including “beautiful,” “ravishing” and “glorious.” The tenor of the “Hanging Gardens” canvases is elegiac; their spirit, communal, compared to the specimen-like individuality of the flowers in the “Ordinary Miracles” series.

Despite his command of the shapes, colors and details of different floral species, for Zakanitch, the floral imagery of both series is secondary to his overall concern with the subject of ornamentation.

“I never think I’m painting flowers, even from the beginning,” he said in a recent phone interview. “It was all about making patterns and images and moving color around.”

Zakanitch has lived and worked in New York for his entire career, and except for the three Big Bungalow paintings, all of the works in this show were made after 9/11. The event caused him to hone in on the healing capacity of art, long a latent part of his aesthetic.

“After 9/11 it was time to really start mending this firmament,” he said. “Everyone is interconnected. And every one of us is beautiful and valuable.” He embarked on a series of “lace paintings” (reproduced in the catalogue),” inspired by the visible interconnectedness of lace, and its creation by women of all different ethnic backgrounds. He wanted to honor them, he said.

His choices going forward, in the “Ordinary Miracles” and “Hanging Gardens” paintings, similarly reflect a life philosophy that looks to the positive side of humanity: “Yes, we live on a war-planet. Yes, anger, rage and hostility are in all of us. But I am not interested in painting the baseness in us,” Zakanitch has said.

Against the backdrop of today’s international upheavals, Zakanitch’s global borrowings take on new relevance. Mixing the glories of Islamic tiles and carpets with European lace and embroideries, folk traditions and American crafts, his paintings offer a vast lexicon of what is good in every culture through their creation of beauty, twined together in a model of harmony.  o

Installation view | The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art

Installation view | The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art

“Ephemeral Beauty: Robert Zakanitch” continues at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art at Johnson County Community College, 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park, through Feb. 14. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Friday, Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday. For more information, 913-469-3000 or www.nermanmuseum.org.    Admission is free; check the museum’s website for holiday hours.

The museum will hold a closing reception for the exhibit from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 4. It will include a lecture by Zakanitch at 7 p.m. and a book signing of his new monograph, with essays by David Pagel and John DeFazio, which will be for sale at the event. Admission is free.

Exhibition News: Robert Zakanitch at Nancy Hoffman Gallery

Robert Zakanitch, "The Opal Mist, 2015, gouache on paper, 18 x 24 in. (45.7 x 61 cm)

Robert Zakanitch at Nancy Hoffman Gallery

“In the Garden of the Moon”

January 28—March 5, 2016

On January 28, an exhibition of new work by Robert Zakanitch opens at Nancy Hoffman Gallery.  Entitled “In the Garden of the Moon,” the show includes large and small gouache paintings on paper, inspired by the magic and romance of the night.  The show continues through March 5, and is a celebration of the Pomegranate publication “Robert Rahway Zakanitch,” the first monograph on the artist, tracing his evolution from the ‘70s as the strongest voice in the Pattern and Decoration movement, to the work of today.  A book signing event will be held at the gallery on January 28 from 6 to 8.

“I want to bring romance back into painting, and in this series the timeless enchantment of the moon and the night.  Night vividly reveals the immensity, that we are all part of, with stars, galaxies, and universes flowing flawlessly—all inter-related.” - Robert Zakanitch

Following his lush “Hanging Gardens” series inspired by the gardens of Babylon, Zakanitch embarked on an entirely new body of work.  During the three years he painted the “hanging gardens,” the artist moved from his long-term Brooklyn home and studio to Yonkers, where he now lives facing a garden with a view of the night sky, stars, and moon.  Nature is at his front door and permeates his home and studio.  A floor to ceiling studio window is filled with light in the day facing the Phillipse Manor garden, and filled with the mysteries of the night as the sun sets and darkness descends over the town. These are not “representational” paintings of the night; these are visionary interpretations of the sensation of night, night light, with different deep blues, loons and owls, and golden fish.  The moon and clouds are primary players in the drama that unfolds in each painting, one of the most dramatic works being “Over the Clouds” in which the profusion of stars and galaxies, and sparkling constellations occupy the entire top half of the work, balanced by hovering vaporous clouds below.

Trying to grasp the immensity of the universe in painting, Zakanitch creates poetry and music in gouache.  These are stylized paintings, perhaps owing a small debt to Chinese, Japanese or Russian painting, and maybe even illuminated manuscripts, not to mention 1945 Armstrong linoleum.  Zakanitch’s stylization is part of his on-going vocabulary and commitment to ornamentation as language.  His love of ornamentation shimmers in pearl-like borders.  The invented patterns at the bottom of each painting function as “anchors,” and remind us how beautiful the gesture of mark making can be.

“In the Garden of the Moon” Zakanitch dares to bring back romance in “moonscapes,” that are not simply landscapes, but mindscapes about light.  Gouache is never used in heroic scale, rarely is the viewer privileged to feel the artist’s hand as it is felt in this series.  These are paintings about “beauty and sumptuousness and life force, about the beautiful music of humanity,” as the artist says.  This is a new era for the artist, an era of luminosity and visual poetry addressing the immensity of the universe and man’s relationship to it.

Robert Zakanitch’s work has been shown at Arizona State University, Tempe; California Center for the Arts, Escondido; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, New York; University of Illinois, Chicago; University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City; Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, La Jolla, California; Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman; The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, Kansas; Nassau County Museum of Art, Roslyn, New York; University of Nebraska, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln; University of Nevada, Las Vegas; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; Palm Desert Museum, Palm Springs, California; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and abroad at Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid; Fondation du Chateau de Jau, Case de Pene, France; Galleries Alexandra Monett, Brussels; Galleries FIX des Muses de Nice, France; Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal; Kunstforeningen Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark; Kunstmuseum, Lucerne, Switzerland; Modern Art Museum, Munich, Germany; Museo Tamayo, Mexico; Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn, Germany; U.S. Pavilion, 39th Biennial, Venice, Italy; Wurttembergisch Kunstverein, Stuttgart, Germany.

His work is included in the collections of Albright-Knox Museum, Buffalo, New York; The Art Museum, Princeton University, New Jersey; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Denver Art Museum, Colorado; The High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin; Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia; Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania; Phoenix Art Museum, Arizona; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and abroad in Musée de Strasbourg, France;  Musée regional d’art contemporain, Languedoc-Roussillon, France; Osaka Museum, Japan; and The Tate, London.

He was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Grant.

The artist resides in New York.

Installation: Robert Zakanitch "Garden of the Moon" at Nancy Hoffman Gallery, new York

Review: Hanging Gardens at Nancy Hoffman Gallery

Installation shot of Robert Zakanitch: Hanging Gardens at Nancy Hoffman Gallery showing  Wisteria II  and (distance)  Fireglow  from the series. Courtesy of Nancy Hoffman Gallery

Installation shot of Robert Zakanitch: Hanging Gardens at Nancy Hoffman Gallery showing Wisteria II and (distance) Fireglow from the series. Courtesy of Nancy Hoffman Gallery

Daring to be Beautiful: Robert Zakanitch at Nancy Hoffman

by Aimée Brown Price


Robert Zakanitch: Hanging Gardens at Nancy Hoffman Gallery

May 9 to June 15, 2013
520 West 27th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212-966-6676

“Glorious” was a word heard frequently at Robert Zakanitch’s opening in response to his unexpectedly large (eight by five feet) gouaches on paper hangings that suit his imagery so magnificently: great expanses of often small budding blossoms, curtains of pale wisterias in full bloom, bittersweet, and glowing dandelion puffs–or maybe fireflies, willfully indeterminate in bursts of light.  If Beauty (with an upper case `B’) has gone out of style, no one told this artist, a longtime proponent of such traditionally and immediately appealing subjects — lace, jewels, cherubs, sunset landscapes, and now gardens — bypassed, if not scoffed at, in recent decades. But John DeFazio, in a fine catalogue essay, actually thanks Zakanitch for “daring” to be gentle, sweet, and pretty.   Perhaps we’ve come around to understanding that beauty is no longer déclassé.

The series, named after the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, wonder of the Ancient World, exudes a mythic quality in the evocative and irreal proliferation of plants removed from materiality by his blanched colors, flattening of form, and wonderfully rhythmic and decorative flowery festoons.  The delicacy of his petalled plants answer to the matte, chalky colors that serve them.  Their fragility is enhanced by the painting technique and the medium itself, with luminosity glanced in the interstices among the abundant blooms.  While entirely authentic and superbly observed, not for a moment are these florid items realistic.


Robert Zakanitch, Hanging Gardens Series (Wisteria II), 2011-12. Gouache and colored pencil on paper, 96 x 60 inches. Courtesy of Nancy Hoffman Gallery

These exhilarating compositions are often topped by decorative grids or by ornamental arabesques of bordering trellises, with the lower portions left contrastingly unfinished.  Drips of paint accentuate the lusciousness of these images.  Though the artist is in absolute command of his medium, there is an insistent lack of pretentiousness, most obvious, perhaps, in the almost offhand, contour-lined lattices or the occasional bit of writing, as in his simple, slanting signature.  That the viewer is allowed to see the transformation as strokes and dribbles of paint metamorphose into ravishing flora imagery seems like one more gift from this generous artist.

The overall rhythmic patterns of the lush carpets of flowers give way to enormous variety when further examined.  Buds are at different stages of opening, their sizes and tonalities varying.  Some petals are flush with pale pinks or lilacs while others are awash with transparency.  One flower droops or is somewhat turned, clusters are more or less tight. Zakanitch was one of the founders of Pattern and Decoration in the 1970s which accounts perhaps  for the importance of repeated flat design to his work.  But P&D is a reductive and therefore not very astute term in relation to Zakanitch, failing to take into account just how painterly his surfaces are, and never simply homogenized.  The tender, sometimes impish wit presented in his variations recall Dutch seventeenth-century still life painting: careful looking is rewarded by the discovery that the cascades of flowers are very much alive, abuzz with small insects, tiny lady bugs among them.  Meanwhile there may be a silhouetted misty bird hovering nearby. The work holds attention and is sumptuously satisfying at differing viewing distances.  This is true, as well, of the small gouaches also included in the show that yield their own extravagant pleasure.   Happily, the commendable exhibition catalogue acknowledges the importance of seeing works both as a whole and in detail by reproducing close-ups at several different degrees.

Robert Zakanitch, without pretentiousness or folderol, truly goes to bat for beauty.