Ingleby Gallery’s current group exhibition ‘Resistance and Persistence’ takes its title from an essay by Sean Scully, which speaks of his dialogue with a small Giorgio Morandi painting at the Tate Gallery. In Scully’s mind, Morandi’s work stubbornly refuses to engage with abstraction and stands reservedly in painterly representation. In putting four Morandi works at the centre of this show, Ingleby Gallery looks at artists whose dogged and iterative processes, like Morandi, speak to a persistence and unwillingness to acquiesce to others. In doing so the gallery opens up these same works to intimate conversations with one another.
‘Resistance and Persistence’ brings together works by artists including Cy Twombly, Richard Serra, Agnes Martin, Roger Ackling, Rachel Whiteread, Sean Scully and Jane Bustin. Should these works have been left to stand alone, self-assured in their form and execution, they would perhaps invite contemplation rather than discussion, but, like Scully and Morandi, when seen together in harmonious or jarring duet their contingency and vulnerability are revealed.
Creating a show that contains such a robust list of artists demonstrates confidence on the part of Ingleby. How can a seeing a sample of ten Agnes Martin lithographs in their gallery, for example, compare to seeing her recent monumental solo show at the Tate Modern or even at her own exhibition space at the Harwood Gallery in Taos, New Mexico? Martin’s delicate precision is seen most clearly in nearly empty space so its subtle and meditative quality is not lost amidst intruding works.
But, like hosting an intimate dinner party, Ingleby Gallery has included a roster of artists whose works do, indeed, resist singular interpretation and thereby have much to say to one another. Through a deliberate hanging, Ingleby allows access to intimate conversations between unlikely pairs, spanning from 1931 to 2015.
Three couples in particular stand out. Rachel Whiteread’s ‘Step’ (2007 – 2008) and Giorgio Morandi’s ‘Natura Morta’ (pre-1959) summon us to experience a kind of uncomplicated sensuality. Morandi’s painting and Whiteread’s shelf of resin and plaster boxes move beyond a formalist similarity, and, through their proximity to one another, incite a heighted awareness of the fleshiness of Morandi’s brush strokes and the soft mutability of Whiteread’s objects.
Sean Scully’s ‘Untitled (Doric)’ (2015) and Jane Bustin’s ‘Blue Notes’ (2015) is concerned with containment and the constraints found within the gallery wall itself. Bustin’s installation of unassuming porcelain tiles diminutively addresses the entirety of the long wall at the entrance of the gallery. In doing so it also articulates the possibility of infinitude as we easily imagine the extension of the tiles completing the surface of the wall and even moving out to the street itself. Scully’s work, brash and expressive with broad blue stripes penetrating beyond the canvas, electrifies its location but seems a brief scream compared to Bustin’s quiet and careful iteration.
Lastly, Agnes Martin’s series of ten offset lithographs from her 1991 solo show at the Stedelijk Museum are perfectly paired with the Roger Ackling sculptures peppered throughout the show. The precision of Martin’s works are equaled in patient devotion to Ackling’s objects, and they are both, despite their clear geometry, concerned with the fallibility of the human hand: his found wooden objects burned by the sun using a magnifying glass and Martin’s meditative drawings made human through small swerving lines that upset the grid.
On 20 January, in an event separate from but relevant to ‘Resistance and Persistence’, Martin’s 1976 film ‘Gabriel’ was screened in conjunction with ARTIST ROOMS a programme led by the Edinburgh College of Art in collaboration with Tate and National Gallery of Scotland. Seen as an anomaly by most Martin scholars, ‘Gabriel’ follows a young boy strolling throughout the southwestern wilderness of the United States, and it is in this raw landscape that Martin and Ackling’s relationship can be understood best. Perhaps Martin’s filming of Gabriel’s inquisitive journey through the desert is not so different from walking alongside Ackling as he searches for the natural objects at the center of his compositions.
In his same essay, Scully points out in seeing Morandi that, “it wasn’t exciting, yet it was exciting,” and that could summarize ‘Resistance and Persistence’. Perhaps some of the individual works, like Francesca Woodman’s series of photographs, are not the most representational or exciting of their oeuvre, but when placed in a quiet conversation with one another, the result is altogether more profound.