North Tonawanda, New York
Summary of Robert Mangold
Robert Mangold is perhaps one of the lesser-known figures associated with the Minimalist movement that came to dominate the North American art scene in the 1960s. But he was there at its conception and is held in high regard by many of the most famous sons and daughters of the genre. Once employed alongside Sol LeWittt as a security guard at New York's Museum of Modern Art, he rose to prominence through his inclusion in a series of well-received Minimalist exhibitions in the mid-1960s. In addition, his turn in the 1980s to brighter, bolder color palettes influenced the new generation of Post-Minimalist artists who rose to prominence in that decade. Mangold remains creatively active and, in a Movement sometimes teased for its high-falutin metaphysical and conceptual propositions, is notable for speaking about his practice with an eloquent clarity and directness.
- Although Mangold is known as a Minimalist painter, a movement primarily associated with sculpture, his paintings really exist on the cusp between painted and sculptural form. Using effects of layering, segmentation, notching, and combination with other strips and squares of canvas, Mangold is able to emphasize the presence and form of the painted surface in a way which generates subtle architectonic and sculptural effects. His work therefore contributes to a key ethos within Minimalism, the collapse of the medium-specific processes and creative approaches that had defined Abstract Expressionism, North America's last major art movement.
- A repeated maneuver in Mangold's work is the use of a graphite pencil stroke to articulate a curved or counterpointed line within the rectilinear external shape of a frame. This often seems to leave his pieces on the cusp between one shape and other, such that the viewer must imagine a form extending beyond the physical boundaries of the piece that resolves the structural quandary. In this sense, they generate the classic Minimalist impression of a potentially infinite form extending beyond the boundaries of the object presented.
- Mangold's earliest works were presented in pale, matt, monochrome hues, but in the 1980s he opted for brighter and bolder color combinations, which perhaps responded to the new colors and shapes of the nascent digital space. Through this maneuver his influence extended beyond his Minimalist peers to a younger generation of artists such as the post-Conceptualist Peter Halley.
Biography of Robert Mangold
Robert Mangold was born in 1937 and spent most of his childhood in Buffalo, New York. He has described himself as coming from a "rural factory background", noting that most of the men in his family worked at the Wurlitzer factory in North Tonawanda, which made organs and jukeboxes. His mother worked odd jobs, including wallpapering and stock-buying for a department store. Mangold would accompany her on occasional trips to New York City, and also used to go with her to the library, where he would borrow books on art and drawing. Mangold remembered being told by people in his elementary school that he had a lot of talent, and as most of his family worked in factory or on farms, art seemed an attractive career choice.
Important Art by Robert Mangold
Pink Area is a spare but visually impactful piece. Two slender, rectangular strips of Masonite join to form a square, a notch cut in the bottom right-hand corner to mar the symmetry of the form and reveal the plywood board behind, adding a visual and textural quirk. The Masonite panels are spray-painted - Mangold chose to apply paint in this way to avoid the impression of the artist's touch - with a gradient running from creamy grey to soft pink in the bottom fifth of the painting.
Pink Area is part of the Walls and Areas series, which expressed Mangold's perception of urban structures: windows, walls, obfuscated buildings, and the sharp spaces created between them. Of these works Mangold explained: "each work is a totality, but it implies that much more could be there." The series exemplifies the principles of Minimalism both in its enigmatic suggestion of illimitable form and because, Like Donald Judd's Specific Objects, it presents itself as "neither painting nor sculpture." Though painted, it lacks the mark of individual creation, and the color is monochromatic and unobtrusive, calling attention to the surface to which paint is adhered. Affixed to the wall, the piece takes on a sculptural element because of the cut-away bottom corner. Mangold himself, however, always preferred the term "Geometric Painter" to Minimalist.
In a sense Mangold's painting, with its strong associations of a smoky urban sunset, begs the question of whether Minimalist artists were ever able to create truly "non-referential" works. That said, the critic Daniel Marzona states of Walls and Areas that "although to a certain degree allusive, these early works already reveal Mangold's focus on the four independent but related elements of painting; shape, color, line, and surface."
Circle is a deceptively simple work, suggesting a series of different visual forms that the viewer is invited to complete in their mind. As with Pink Area, the extraction of part of the implied shape of the canvas creates a sense of tension between the qualities of painting and sculpture: a semi-circular curve marks out the right-hand side of the surface, but the circle is completed on the left-hand side by a thin graphite line. This contrast between drawn and sculpted shape generates a sense of formal play, complemented by marking out the sides of a polygon inside the right perimeter of the circle. This adds to the subtle sense of flux, as if the work were unsure whether to resolve itself into one shape or the other.
By the 1970s Mangold was tired of waiting for his oil paints to dry. He switched to acrylic paint, but because this often dried in his spray gun, he seized upon the roller as an ideal medium of application. He described paint rolling as "a very practical way of applying the paint without seeming sentimental or romantic about it." Lack of sentimentality also figures in the austere flatness of this work, with the lines of the polygon articulating the space of the canvas in the sparest possible terms. This self-reflexive minimalism reminds the viewer, as John Yau writes, "that a painting is a flat fragment mounted on the wall."
At the same time, Mangold's interest in the basic elements of a painting such as line and shape manifest themselves in works like this that challenge the very stability of both categories: if a line only partially expresses the outline of a shape, for example, is it part of that shape, or just a line? As Mangold put it: "[t]he work is a shape, but it's a shape in relation to the drawn figure in the composition; it's the marriage of those two things that starts the world in motion - what's going to be inside and what the outside is going to be, or how the outside works in relation to the inside."
As the title suggests, this piece consists of several canvases fused together to form the shape of an X, painted in shades of orange - a warm pumpkin and a fiery reddish hue - and jungle green. The green section, extending from bottom-left to top-right, consists of a single thin strip of canvas. The orange sections, irregularly sized, consist of two different canvases affixed to the center of the strip. Black pencil lines mark out the inner spaces of the cross, forming a second X within the painted composition.
In the early 1980s Mangold's muted, unprepossessing colors gave way to vibrant, saturated shades like those used in Green / 2 Orange. Whereas color had previously been subordinate to structure it was now an emphasized compositional feature. The oranges and green heighten the viewer's comprehension of the X form, but at the same time, as the critic Suzanne Muchnic notes, their irregular sizes "prove how eagerly the eyes generalize subtle inconsistencies." We want to make that familiar shape in our minds even if Mangold's piece insouciantly belies it. Again, the piece subtly suggests the presence of a different form to the one we are presented with, probing the dimensions of our formal unconscious.
But despite the new emphasis placed on color in Mangold's 1980s work the X shape remains the most important component of this piece. Moreover, though it is clearly possible to read allusions to religious iconography into the shape, and thus to Malevich's cruciform works, some observers have stressed that in the spirit of Minimalism all allegorical interpretation should be cast aside. In presenting their show of Mangold's X and + works, curators at London's Parasol Unit gallery emphasized that: "[t]he pencil inscribed figure of x or + on the painted canvas eliminates categorically any illusory effect and keeps the painting to the surface." To reference Frank Stella, one of the Minimal artists whom Mangold most admired, "what you see is what you see."
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Robert Mangold
- Robert MangoldOur PickBy Richard Shiff
- Robert Mangold: Drawings and Works on Paper, 1965-2008By Robert Storr
- Robert Mangold: Paintings, 1990-2002By Richard Shiff
- Robert Mangold: Beyond the Line: Paintings and Project 2000-2008By Douglas Dreischpoon
- Oral history interview with Robert MangoldBy Christopher Lyon / Smithsonian Archives of American Art / November 16, 2017
- Robert Mangold's Sense of ThingsOur PickBy John Yau / Hyperallergic / February 26, 2017
- The Complex Minimalism of Robert MangoldBy Phillip Garcio / IdeelArt / November 6, 2014
- Review of Robert MangoldBy John Raskin / CAA Reviews / June 22, 2001