After participating in the 1975 Whitney Biennial, the New York painter Robin Bruch slowly, steadily and curiously disappeared from the art world stage. Perhaps it was because her work gravitated between the poles of Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism at a time when Pop and Conceptual fare were more in favour. Around the turn of the millennium, Bruch finally drew a line and turned her back on New York. The fact that this exhibition – with the ever so slightly ironic title Major Works on Paper. 1972–1985 – came to see the day is something of a wonder. When Megan Francis Sullivan – one of the gallery artists – was researching Blinky Palermo, she came across his one-time life partner Bruch by chance and in the end tracked down the artist on Facebook after lengthy and largely unsuccessful enquiries.
Bruch’s succinctly executed paintings on paper – presented in thin black frames – offer neither cool logic and clean lines, nor expressive directness but rather play with both alike. Her triangles, half-moons and rectangles seem rendered in an intentionally sloppy and listless way; here and there a preparatory pencil sketch shimmers through. Where one might expect a monochrome field, instead one finds murky grey tones applied with rough brush marks. Bright colours come to the fore only in Untitled (1980–85).
Despite the geometric compositional basis of many of her paintings – like Untitled (1977) or Untitled (1972) – they often depart from the hard-edged angularity typical of this genre; instead one could describe them as somewhat dreamlike and a little absent. In addition, the titles of some of the works such as Peti Tenget (Bali) (1977) suggest that they are representations of highly abstracted landscapes. To complete the presentation, there was a vitrine in the middle of the space displaying a thick, large format, rather battered book which Bruch worked on between the years 1972 and 1979, when she did not not have the means to buy proper materials. Simple geometric shapes, squares and boxes can be seen on the open pages; again they are rendered in contaminated colours of dark red, pink and ochre. All in all, it was a strange, melancholically serene room.
This exhibition will no doubt give Bruch’s forgotten oeuvre a new framework for interpretation and appreciation. This new framing was made particularly clear through an additional presentation in the gallery’s large display window: an office interior with modestly stylish Egon Eiermann furniture, a copy of Nils Strinning’s classic String Shelf on the wall and two ceramic bowls Bruch made in 1990, decorated with the patterns and colours recognizable from her paintings. Two photographs on the shelf show Bruch working on her battered book. Yet in the end, the timeless elegance of this setting distracts from a direct confrontation and engagement with Bruch’s fragile and difficult work inside. The window display stylized the work and framed the artist as a mythological persona, even before one could enter her exhibition.
Translated Dominic Eichler
First published in Issue 7