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Anne Truitt and Her “Signature” Allusions

Today’s post comes from Curtis Eckley, class of 2019 and Art Center Student Docent.

This past month, the Dia Art Foundation announced its recent acquisition of six Anne Truitt sculptures that will go on long-term view at their Dia:Beacon gallery space, starting on May 5, 2017. In addition to these sculptures, which include White: One (1962), Pith (1969), Landfall (1970), North (1963), Grant (1974), and Echo (1973), on view will be paintings from her Arundel series, on long-term loan from the artist’s estate. In anticipation of this exhibition, I thought it would be worthwhile to look back at the two Anne Truitt sculptures in the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center’s permanent collections.

Anne Truitt, American, 1921-2004, Signature, 1974, Acrylic on wood, Gift of Cicely d’Autremont Angleton, class of 1944, and Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, class of 1945-4, in memory of Mary Pinchot Meyer, class of 1942, 1980.4.

The earlier piece in the collection, Signature (1974), departs from her usual standard format with its cruciform top, but is very typical in her use of muted colors. Known for her reductive, painted wood sculptures, Anne Truitt (1921-2004) was an innovative artist who has remained largely unrecognized, despite her work in the early 1960s being anticipatory for later minimalist artists like Donald Judd, Carl Andre, and Sol LeWitt, all of whom are part of the Dia Art Foundation’s collections. She stood apart from these more “literalist” artists (as described by modernist art critic Michael Fried) through her bold and intuitive use of hand-applied color, and allusive subject matter. Her early work especially referenced experiences in her childhood, with simplified shapes that recalled picket fences, tombstones, and other architectural details. She worked to create an experience with shape and color, to make “reality,” as she once said.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, she became interested in art somewhat late, enrolling in art courses at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Washington, D.C., only after having graduated from Bryn Mawr College with a degree in psychology in 1943. She turned to reduced geometric forms in her art after having seen works by Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt in New York City in 1961. Truitt was especially inspired by Newman’s simple divisions and large expanses of color, as well as his suggestions of the divine. This influence is particularly exhibited in the Art Center’s later work, Sorcerer’s Summer (1991), with its bold vertical forms of color—not unlike a Barnett Newman painting. Sorcerer’s Summer is currently on view at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center.

Anne Truitt, American, 1921-2004, Sorcerer’s Summer, 1991, Acrylic on marine, mahogany, Gift of Celia Faulkner Crawford, class of 1958, in memory of Bill, 2002.41.

The new exhibition at Dia:Beacon represents a growing interest in Truitt’s work that has only occurred after her death in 2004. As is often the case, women artists go under-recognized by the major institutions, even if their art laid the groundwork for later artists. Hopefully, the exhibition will shed light on her place in the art world of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as her impact on art history.

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