Jennifer Bartlett. Rhapsody. 1975-76 219

Enamel on steel, 987 plates, Each plate 12 x 12" (30.4 x 30.4 cm); overall approximately 7' 6" x 153' (228.6 x 4663.4 cm). Gift of Edward R. Broida. © 2021 Jennifer Bartlett

Artist, Jennifer Bartlett: I'm Jennifer Bartlett and I can't believe that I did this thirty years ago. It's totally shocking to me. Even thinking about it makes me learn something about life and its fleeting quality, which is what this piece is about in some way, transition and transitoriness.

I had an idea: what if you did a work of art that was really like a conversation. As we talk, we drift from one subject to another. And I'm drifting from subject to subject about my idea of art.

And I began thinking, well, there’d be lines, and lines could be short, medium or long. And they could be dotted. They could be ruled and measured, or they could be freehand. Then, I decided that there would be shapes. I would just get curious about under what circumstances can I alter this system and have it completely logical at the same time.

I didn't know how to pick subject matter because I wasn't very interested in it, so I just decided to pick the first four things that came to my mind: mountains, oceans, which I like a lot, trees and houses. So you'll see in this introductory section all the themes that I will be working with.

I knew that it would have to be near a thousand plates, 'cause pretty much the introduction defined what I was going to do. I did them all sitting down, and then they'd go up on the wall. It filled up my studio three times, so I never saw the piece together.

I had invented the plates, which are one foot square cold rolled steel with a baked enamel surface, like a refrigerator and four holes in the corner. I'd originally gotten the idea from subway signs of having a surface that you could pack up.

The plates are hung so that they are one inch apart. And I think the most important actor in this thing is the white space between the plates, which allows the wall to come through. I was always interested in making a painting with no edges. So I decided, well, if you have more edges, maybe that, at some point, equals no edge (Laughs).

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