The influential and visionary painter Jennifer Bartlett first entered onto the contemporary art scene in the early 1970s with installations of small steel plates coated with white baked enamel, painted with fastidious configurations of dots, and then arranged in grids. Such plate compositions as Rhapsody, first shown in 1976, launched her career but certainly have not come to define it. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Bartlett’s work evolved away from the obsessive control that was so central to these early installations to embrace a painterly depiction of nature. And while her minimalist grids had emphasized the flatness of the wall, Bartlett also began to include sculptural elements that created a much different three-dimensional experience for viewers.
In 1989, Bartlett presented a show at the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York titled Fire Paintings. The works on display featured painted canvases with objects on the floor before them. Throughout the series, a bright orange fire rages that energizes the natural world around it. As seen in Fire Table I, Bartlett depicted clean and simple manmade objects within her compositions, in opposition to the overheated wildness of the fire. Here, there is an orange hexagonal table, one of the items depicted throughout the Fire Paintings series. In addition, a simulacrum of the same orange table stands in front of the canvas in three-dimensional form, scaled and positioned to directly correspond to its painted version. This extends the scene into the viewer’s space, creating a jarring disjunction between the quiet peacefulness of the gallery that the sculpture inhabits and the apocalyptic vision represented in the canvas, which situates the painted table against the moonlit night sky behind the flames.
The Hood is thrilled to add this important work to the collection through a generous donation by longtime supporters of the museum, Sondra Gilman and Celso M. Gonzalez-Falla.