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.