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Barbara TakenagaNebraska

  • Exhibition

  • July 11, 2015 - December 18, 2017
  • Hunter Hallway

Painter Barbara Takenaga creates a new work—at a scale unprecedented in her practice—for a wall in the Hunter Hallway at MASS MoCA. Known for her small, labor-intensive, exuberant abstractions composed of matrix-like swirling patterns of dots, here Takenaga translates her meticulous handcrafted easel-sized work to wallpaper. The mural features a new image from her series Nebraska Paintings, a body of work that moves closer to representational imagery only implied in earlier pieces, also evocative of the wide open spaces and big sky of the artist’s native state.

At MASS MoCA, Takenaga’s pared-down landscape of earth and atmosphere is painted in grays and blues that the artist likens to the quality of light at dusk. In her words, the moody palette—punctuated with the artist’s signature burst of high color—conveys “the violet hour of in-between time when the land and sky start to blur.” A horizon line situated high in Takenaga’s composition places the viewers’ perspective floating above the ground, suggesting an expanse of plain stretching out before them. Repeated lines of white dots radiate out in all directions from an implied vanishing point on the horizon line, like blooming crops, a snowy blizzard, or a star-filled sky. The single image is repeated twelve times along the length of the wall. The composition’s receding lines and diminishing dots of classical one-point perspective alternately move backward toward the horizon, and forward toward the viewer. The long horizon is interrupted by diamond-like shapes formed by the intersection of lines at the seams between each image. As viewers walk the length of the wall, the chain of images functions like a series of film stills, implying movement and the rhythm of time. The result is a tension-filled composition that emphasizes both the flat surface of the wall and an illusion of depth. Adding even more dimension to the work, together with a sense of the artist’s hand to the digitally reproduced image, Takenaga hand-applied iridescent paint to the wallpaper surface.

Describing Takenaga’s paintings as both hallucinogenic and sternly disciplined, writer Nancy Princenthal wrote of the Nebraska Paintings, “It would be misleading to overstate the figurative suggestions of these paintings or their emotional weight. Many present a sleek seductiveness that combines acid-trip visual plentitude with James Bond cool. But given a minute, the imagery grows more complex. Takenaga’s work explores the minimum requirements for evoking astral space or snow over the plains or an uncharted sea. And it demonstrates the many pleasures, not excluding the optical, that such evocations provide.”