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Jennifer Bartlett at work in Benita Olinger Potter’s garden shed, Southampton, New York, 1975.

Paula Cooper Gallery and Marianne Boesky Gallery are deeply saddened to announce the death of Jennifer Bartlett on July 25th in Amagansett, New York.

One of the best-known painters of her generation, Bartlett seamlessly combined the refined aesthetic of minimalism with expressive and emotional painting, and leaves a vast and varied body of work.

Bartlett’s fifty-year relationship with Paula Cooper Gallery began with her participation in a poetry reading at the gallery in March 1972. This was soon followed by a one-person show of Bartlett’s innovative steel plate paintings, in which a silkscreened grid provided a structure for serial markings or abstract gestures in Testor’s enamel paint. In 1976, Bartlett came to prominence with her presentation of Rhapsody, a vast installation of 987 steel plates arranged in a sprawling grid to occupy the entirety of Paula Cooper Gallery. Rhapsody redefined the conceptual possibilities of painting and is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, where it was installed in the atrium in 2006 and in 2019.

Over the course of her career, Bartlett remained dedicated to the investigative and serial approach that was inherent to Rhapsody. Depicting quotidian subjects such as houses, shorelines and domestic interiors, her work resulted in comprehensive examinations of a single motif, both figurative and abstract, and often combined a variety of media in a single work. Through these systematic explorations, Bartlett’s works are imbued with the poignancy and emotion of the day-to-day human experience. 

For her series In the Garden (1980), the artist drew the same domesticated plot in southern France from nearly two hundred different perspectives—and she later returned to the subject in a body of paintings. Other major series include: Swimmers and Rafts (1979) which combined steel enamel plates and shaped canvases in singular, multimedia studies; Sea Wall (1985) a group of multipartite paintings of boats along a shoreline with accompanying sailboat sculptures; Air: 24 Hours (1991-1992), a group of twenty-four paintings, one for each hour of the day, and an accompanying print series; and the recent Hospital Paintings (2012) made after snapshots the artists took during a period of extended care along the East River in Manhattan, each emblazoned with the psychologically charged word ‘Hospital’.

After temporarily replacing the steel plates with large-scale, figurative paintings in the 1980s through the early 2000s, Bartlett returned to minimal, gridded arrangements of purely abstract plate works in the 2010s, incorporating larger plates, an increased density, and vibrant color.

In addition to the ambitious bodies of work Bartlett produced for galleries and museums, the artist executed many commissions, spreading her works across specific sites to create immersive environments and durational experiences. The challenge of responding to a specific site was ideal for Bartlett, who thrived on limitations and restrictions, and worked according to a self-imposed methodological rubric. A commission for the lobby and offices of the Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia (1980) remains on view at Drexel University, and a ceiling installation for the Homan-ji Buddhist temple in Choshi-shi, Japan, also still on view, inspired a subsequent series of prints on the same theme. 

Bartlett was a writer as well as a visual artist, publishing Cleopatra I-IV, a conceptual study of the Egyptian queen across prose, poetry, and diagrams, in 1971, and History of the Universe, a free-form autobiography that intertwines personal anecdotes with cultural references, in 1987.

Jennifer Bartlett’s first survey exhibition, originating in 1985, traveled to the Walker Art Center, MN; the Brooklyn Museum, NY; the Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, PA; the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, CA; and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, MO. In 2006, the Addison Gallery of American Art presented a survey of Bartlett’s early enameled steel plate paintings created from 1968–76. In 2013–14, Klaus Ottmann curated the traveling survey Jennifer Bartlett: History of the Universe—Works 1970–2011, which was exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA and the Parrish Art Museum, NY. In 2014, the Cleveland Museum of Art united her three monumental plate pieces, Rhapsody, Song, and Recitative in the exhibition Epic Systems. Bartlett’s work is represented in many institutional collections including the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, TX; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; the Museum of Modern Art, NY; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; the Tate Modern, London; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, among many others. Born in Long Beach, California, Bartlett studied at Mills College in California and received her MFA from Yale University in 1965.

The work of Jennifer Bartlett is represented by Paula Cooper Gallery and Marianne Boesky Gallery.