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‘Joan Mitchell/The Last Decade’ at Gagosian Gallery

November 26, 2010

The paintings Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) made over the last decade of her life represent a last-ditch effort to grab art by the horns and to hang on for the wild ride, wherever it might take you. Joan Mitchell La Grande ValleeAt Gagosian Gallery, “Joan Mitchell/The Last Decade” shows an artist who did exactly that. From the early 1980s, when Mitchell’s health began to fail, until 1992, when she died, her work changed significantly, growing more concentrated, impatient and ferociously focused, the joyous abandon of each painting intensified by the knowledge that it might be the last one.

Organized by independent art historian Richard D. Marshall, the gorgeous selection of 13 paintings begins with “Row Row” (1982), “La Grande Vallee XVI Pour Iva” (1983) and “Then, Last Time IV” (1985). In all three, Mitchell fills just about every square inch of her towering, often wall-size canvases with decisive brushstrokes in vibrant blue, yellow, orange, violet, lavender and green. The meaty solidity of her gestures is made all the more poignant by the speed with which they were laid down, the artist’s hand, arm and torso moving faster than the mind could direct them.

The next three paintings, “Beauvais” (1986), “River” (1989) and “Riviere” (1990) are looser and freer. Messier and less magnificent, they are also more exciting, naked and discomposed. Each is a pair of 9-by-6-1/2 foot panels that Mitchell painted separately and then joined together to form a single mural-scale abstraction. Wider slices of unpainted canvas are visible. Solid forms begin to splinter. And Mitchell covered some passages of organic color with swathes of bright white, putting more breathing room into her increasingly expansive works and making them more fiercely lyrical.

Read more at: Art Review: ‘Joan Mitchell/The Last Decade’ at Gagosian Gallery

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