On Thursday, Nov. 3, the List Gallery opened a newly mounted exhibit of works by American figurative painter Lois Dodd. Dodd, this year’s Donald J. Gordon Visiting Artist, also delivered an artist’s talk that evening to a full auditorium in LPAC cinema. Alongside Dodd during the talk were Faye Hirsch, editor and art critic at Art in America Magazine, and Andrea Packard, List Gallery director and curator, both of whom seemed absolutely delighted to discuss Dodd’s work with her. During her introduction to the talk, Packard thanked Alexandre Gallery, which represents Dodd and facilitated loans to the List Gallery.
“Our little gallery has a monumentality I’ve never seen before,” Packard said during the talk, in regards to the show.
Dodd was born in Montclair, New Jersey in 1927. In the late ‘40s, she attended Cooper Union School of Art. During the talk, she explained that she had little exposure to art before college. Dodd would go on to become part of a group of figurative painters working from observation. Dodd painted at a time when the art world deemed such practice obsolete in light of abstract expressionism.
“This was a movement particularly notable for its erasure of female participation while producing some of the most famous male modernists like Pollock, de Kooning, and Rothko. Her paintings are more figurative and less abstracted than these male artists and, therefore, shift and complicate a commonly monolithic understanding of post-war American art,” said Blake Oetting ’18.
Oetting is one of this year’s List Gallery interns who helped unpack the paintings before their installation. Given its subversive implications, Oetting commended Packard and the art department for organizing the show.
The exhibit, titled “Lois Dodd: Windows and Reflections,” focuses on a recurring theme in Dodd’s work. The paintings, spanning from 1963 to 2006, include views from the window of her apartment on East 2nd Street in lower Manhattan, landscapes surrounding her weekend home at the Delaware Water Gap, and the gardens and woods surrounding her summer home on the St. George in Maine. Harmonic handlings of color, texture, and form characterize these compositions.
“I’ve been studying this work in reproductions, so to see the actual paintings is huge,” said Hirsch, who is currently working on a monograph on Dodd and her art. During the talk, Dodd, Hirsch, and Packard discussed Dodd’s painterly practice and philosophy.
“My easel was usually a tree,” Dodd said on her paintings from St. George, eliciting a few chuckles from the audience. “I covered it up with plastic at night, and returned to it during the day … It would take a few days.”
Dodd stressed the importance of the trompe-l’oeil techniques in her paintings. Trompe-l’oeil refers to the realistic handling of paint that grants objects the visual illusion of existing in the same three-dimensional space as the viewer. Although Dodd’s work retains a painterly texture, the scale of the paintings helps establish the trompe-l’oeil effect.
“I was thinking trompe-l’oeil thoughts at the time,” said Dodd. “I didn’t want them to be small and far away from me.”
Accompanying the exhibit is a 32-page exhibition catalog with essays by Packard and Barry Schwabsky, chief art critic for The Nation. Packard and Schwabsky discuss the pleasant intricacies of Dodd’s paintings, and ground them within larger art historical contexts.
“Her images of windows, as well as natural apertures such as ponds and intersecting tree limbs, call attention to the way we variously frame and focus our attention,” Packard said in her essay.
The lack of human representation in most of Dodd’s paintings was addressed during the talk as well.
“One of the things I was struck by in the show is … there are no people represented in there … It seems to me that the human presence we feel very much [in these paintings] is you,” Hirsch said to Dodd at one point. “It’s a very subtle presence … and it’s not a human of depiction.”
“That sounds great,” responded Dodd calmly, again moving the audience to laughter.
Oetting found these moments in the talk particularly charming and indicative of the beauty in art interpretation.
“It gave an idea of Lois’s personality and also emphasized the idea of her work — and art in general — being living, breathing cultural relics that are constantly being reinterpreted and reevaluated,” said Oetting.
Dodd’s calm disposition was very much in line with the accessibility of her art; audience members were moved to engage and ask questions of Dodd and each other. In other words, the paintings invited interpretation.
“I am very impressed with how engaging Lois Dodd’s show is,” said Oetting. “I don’t think it requires an extensive background in art history to appreciate her aesthetic nor grasp, at least loosely, some of the themes she was interested in exploring.”
The show will be on view until Dec. 15. Physical copies of the catalogue are available in the gallery, and a PDF is available online.
“It’s becoming more and more obvious: Lois Dodd is one of the best painters of the past half-century or so,” said Schwabsky in his essay.