New year, new blockbuster at Zwirner. This time, it's Op Art queen Bridget Riley, in a mini-retrospective of (mainly) work from the past four years.
It's based around two themes: her return to the black and white patterns that made her name in the 60s, and her more recent disc paintings. What the two styles have in common is formal rigour, the impression of movement and disorientation. You could say her work, taken as a whole, form an inquiry into the constituent elements of painting. Or you could say that, taken individually, they make very superior decorations.
The large black and white canvases - and huge wall painting - on the ground floor are based around a triangle pattern: triangles with two straight sides and a wavy side. The effect is like radio static, animating the shapes. Maybe because I have astigmatism, it seemed to have a border of an accent colour on the curved edge. They are literally hard to look at, impossible to focus on. A couple of my fellow observers blinked, stretched their eyes, rubbed them, tried to re-focus. And then gave up, I guess.
Intellectual inquiry or pretty pattern? Some grumpy critics accuse her of making merely decorative art that doesn't reward deeper study. Though they might be hard to look at, the works do, for me at least, reward closer inspection. For one thing, the paintstrokes are amazing feats of technical skill: having been put on by hand, they are amazingly even and uniform. (It's not by Riley's hand, either: she's been open about having used assistants to put her ideas onto canvas since finding her signature style in the early 60s.) Though she does sign them: on the bottom-right side, on the edge of the canvas facing outward.
The upper floors are the 'Measure for Measure' series also shown at Max Hetzler in Paris last year: coloured discs, again with a large wall painting and smaller canvases. Though at the Zwirner show, unlike there, they were contextualised by a couple of stunning early works. The highlight's back on the ground floor though: the large triangle pictures - neither for sale - called 'Quiver' and 'Cascando'. Overall, the show feels like a real event. Something for recent times, not a 60s curio.
Bridget Riley: Recent Paintings 2014 - 2017 is at David Zwirner (London). January 19 — March 10, 2018.