NARRATOR: This is an example of Levine’s Broad Stripe series from the 1980s. Elisabeth Sussman is Sandra Gilman Curator of Photography at the Whitney.
ELISABETHSUSSMAN: Essentially she’s painting small, you could call them abstract paintings, and they’re intensely colored rectangles or maybe close to squares. They are unusually colored, and they’re striped. They usually have two to three vertical divisions, and the number of colors are like two or three different colors. They have a very smooth, lovely, almost shiny oily surface. So they’re the kind of paintings that you would stop and look at because the surface would interest you. And then you would look at them because the colors would interest you. So they’re quite snappy.
She was not going for anything theoretical about geometrical abstraction, or mystical this-or-that, or expressiveness of color, or any of the things, kind of arguments that might have been made around painting traditionally in the early sixties. That was not her interest.
NARRATOR: At that time, abstract expressionist painters and the critics who championed them made grand claims for abstraction.
ELISABETHSUSSMAN: By making these like that a little bit, so that you refer to that tradition, but small, and eccentric, eccentrically colored, you’re not trying to make that big statement. I think instead—I think it’s trying to say that this stuff, this abstraction, has moved into just almost the pop realm. That it’s moved into consumer culture and just the general economy of signs and it’s flattened out. It’s generic. That kind of abstraction was absorbed into all kinds of product, manufactures and decorative styles, advertising styles. So it became generic in terms of oft-repeated within art and oft-repeated within culture in general.