Sarah Morris: Robert Towne

About the Exhibition

Since the mid-1990s, Sarah Morris (b.1967, Sevenoaks, UK) has been internationally renowned for her panoramic portraits of American metropolises, which take the form of both paintings and films. In the paintings, she uses colors and geometries that she associates with a city’s unique vocabulary and palette, architecture and, most importantly, its character and energy. Robert Towne, a temporary installation at Lever House commissioned by the Public Art Fund, is Morris’s expanded variation on an abstract canvas from her recent “Los Angeles” series (2005-06). Painted directly on the ground-level ceiling by a crew of sign painters, Robert Towne covers the entire 19,744-square-foot cross section of the building, encompassing both its indoor lobby and outdoor courtyard.

A monumental blue-green glass and stainless steel structure designed by Gordon Bunshaft, Lever House is a quintessential example of the type of mid-century Modernist skyscraper that inspired the artist’s first city series, “Midtown.” Morris’s engagement with architecture transcends physical characteristics to focus on the ways in which buildings and urban development reflect and shape human interaction and the global flow of power. When Lever House was completed in 1951, it was almost immediately welcomed as an iconic if controversial addition to Park Avenue. The architect’s unusual decision to give up valuable ground-floor square footage to create an open courtyard and pedestrian arcade was praised by some, while others criticized the area as being dark and unusable. In creating an artwork that dramatically alters the nature of Lever House’s plaza, Morris observes and adds to the longstanding dialogue about corporate public/private spaces.

The work is named after Robert Towne, the legendary Hollywood writer, director, producer and actor, who is best known for his screenplays, which include Chinatown (1974), Shampoo (1975) and Personal Best (1982), and for being the script doctor behind such films as Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and The Parallax View (1974). His works are marked by their moral ambivalence, realistic dialogue and ruthless dissection of cruel or corrupt systems of social authority. Morris describes him as “an elliptical figure” whose career exemplifies a certain characteristic mode of working in the film industry marked by collaboration, behind-the-scenes influence, and shared or changing roles.

In describing her paintings, Morris often refers to Venn Diagrams, the colored circle graphs in which overlapping areas indicate relationships between two or more sets of things. Like the works in the Los Angeles series, Robert Towne features intersecting lines and interconnected hexagons, forming a visual correlation to what Morris describes as the city’s fluid and multifaceted power dynamic. With Robert Towne, Morris maps the aesthetics of one city onto the architecture of another, linking the country’s two cultural capitols and bridging the past decade of her work.



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