This winter P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center will devote two floors of its galleries to the sculpture, models, drawings, and paintings of the late Ronald Bladen (1918–1988), who was considered by many to be a founding "father of Minimalism." Organized by P.S.1 Director Alanna Heiss, this exhibition highlights the qualities of Bladen's work that make it essential to and distinct from Minimalist tradition.
This exhibition features four colossal sculptures that illustrate Bladen's fascination with scale and the presence of forms—Three Elements (1965), Curve (1969), The Cathedral Evening (1969), and Rockers (1965). Of these works, Three Elements was featured in the historic Minimalist exhibition Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum in 1966; The Cathedral Evening shares important aesthetic connections with the sculpture of Tony Smith; and Curve anticipates the exaggerated geometry of works by Richard Serra. Audiences will have the opportunity to see Rockers for the first time in an outdoor setting.
Exemplifying cool Minimalism, Bladen’s large geometric objects consist of wooden frameworks joined with bolts, covered with plywood, and painted in solid colors. At the same time, the sculptures’ radical shapes and dynamic relationship to their environments give them a living presence—something Bladen once likened to the “excitement belonging to natural phenomena such as a gigantic wave poised before it makes its fall or man-made phenomena such as the high bridge spanning two distant points.”
These monumental works are accompanied by a collection of Bladen’s large-scale drawings and models, some of which functioned as preliminary sketches and studies of his sculptures, while others were created as ends in themselves. Bladen’s appreciation for poetic sensibilities and his interest in Eastern philosophies is expressed in this work—particularly in his drawings—through the simple integrity of pencil lines or in highly imaginative architectural configurations that appear to float in space. The drawings included in this portion of the exhibition were selected by Daniel Marzona while the models were curated by Alanna Heiss.
On P.S.1’s third floor there will be a selection of Bladen’s works on paper from the late 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s: an early landscape executed in oil by the artist when he was living in Vancouver, British Columbia; a suite of densely conceived graphite drawings from the late 1940s that reflect the occult mysticism and reverence for natural phenomena that characterized the work of poets and writers—Kenneth Rexroth, Michael McClure, Robert Duncan—who were then Bladen’s friends in San Francisco; and an Earth Drawing from the late 1950s executed on-the spot during a trip to Slater Hot Springs (now Esalen) at Big Sur with Michael McClure. This portion of the exhibition was curated for P.S.1 by Douglas Dreishpoon of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York.
P.S.1 has further devoted an entire gallery to Bladen’s paintings and his rarely-seen aluminum reliefs. Best known for his sculpture, Bladen worked prolifically in a range of media, including drawing, painting, and collaborations with writers and poets. Where his drawings and models refer directly to his sculptural work, Bladen’s early paintings are Abstract Expressionist in style and his later paintings possess a visual severity and surface density that give them a compelling physical presence. This collection of Bladen’s paintings provide an fascinating contrast to his sculptural practice, and offer viewers a more complete picture of his artistic development. Ronald Bladen: Selected Works represents tremendous commitment and devotion to the artist on the part of P.S.1 and its collaborators. Both The Cathedral Evening and Rockers were specially reconstructed for the exhibition at P.S.1, and Curve has been shipped from Germany for the exhibition.