In the midst of an auction week marked by huge sales for work by Cy Twombly and Agnes Martin in New York, Dominique Lévy Gallery announced that it now represents Pat Steir, the painter whose abstractions have, over the past four decades, focused on nature and chance. The 76-year-old artist was formerly represented in New York by Cheim & Read, which last had a solo show of her work in 2014.
Lévy is planning its first Steir survey at its London space in September. An expanded version of the show that includes new work will travel to Lévy’s Upper East Side New York gallery in 2017.
“To me, she’s a quintessential painter of the New York School,” Lévy said in a phone interview. “She is, in a way, a painter, but she’s also an incredible conceptual artist. It’s like she allows the paint to do the work.”
Steir first became famous during the early ’70s for her works about iconography and symbols. These early monochromatic paintings feature images of roses that are compared to abstractions, or sometimes depicted in such a stylized way that they are barely recognizable. In doing so, Steir said she wanted to “destroy images as symbols.”
Steir drew her initial inspiration from Asian philosophy, Japanese and Chinese painting, and Conceptualism. She was also influenced by experimental figures like John Cage, who pioneered the use of chance in making art. Having lived in New York during the ’70s, Steir came into contact with Minimalists like Brice Marden and Sol LeWitt, and her monochromatic paintings were sometimes shown alongside Lewitt’s wall drawings.
During the ’80s, Steir achieved critical acclaim for her waterfall paintings. For these monumental works, Steir pinned unstretched canvases with dark backgrounds to the wall. Using a ladder, Steir poured paint on them, allowing drips to flow vertically down the canvas. They resemble torrential rain or water flowing over rocks without ever physically alluding to a landscape. Though these pours were planned, Steir accepted accidents in her work, in the same way that Agnes Martin didn’t fix errors made in her grid paintings.
“I’m drawn to her relationship to nature, to the line, the draftsmanship, and drawing,” Lévy said. “And I’m very drawn to beauty. That’s something we often forget in today’s art world—these paintings are beautiful. They’re moving, poetic… You really feel that you’re in nature.”
In addition to painting, Steir is also known for her prints. Beginning in the ’70s, Crown Point Press sold Steir’s prints, and they are still shown frequently. An exhibition of Steir’s abstract, pour-like monoprints at New York’s Pace Prints gallery closed five days ago.
Steir has taught at the Parsons School of Design, Princeton University, and the California Institute of the Arts. David Salle and Amy Sillman have been among her students. She has also received a number of accolades, from a Guggenheim fellowship to two National Endowment for the Arts grants.
Steir’s work was included in the recent permanent-collection rehang at SFMOMA, and Lévy noted that her work has become an important part of art history. “I think she’s a source of inspiration for a lot of young artists, and for many woman painters,” Lévy said. “It’s that commitment to the visceral process and the paint. She stayed faithful to paint, which is incredibly rare. Very few artists have committed to paint.”