REE MORTON (1936-1977)

Exhibition in the Annemarie Verna Gallery, September 12 – November 4, 2000

In 1997, the gallery showed works from the estate of American artist Ree Morton, who died while still young and in her prime. This was the first time her works had been on view in Europe. The centerpiece was formed by the large-scale work ‘Souvenir Piece’ from 1973. The fact that this is now located in the collection of a European museum can be regarded as a special highlight. Because thanks to the enthusiasm for current artwork, the view of art as a wide-spanning network, with high-profile and original efforts placed in a broader time horizon, is nearly obscured for all the artists. The emphasis on being and having the very latest with its market system and its star system comes with a price.

When Ree Morton died in 1977 in Chicago of injuries sustained in a car accident, she left behind the product of seven years of artistic activity. Her work showed brilliant development, and the art scene of New York in the 1970s became aware of her presence. Through friendships, she was linked with artists of her generation and older. Ree Morton was on her way to becoming an influential figure. This is confirmed by exhibitions of her works in respected institutions, such as in the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Ree Morton had seen the early seventies as a big opportunity. Fundamental changes had just recently taken place. This could be regarded as a strict new dogma, or understood as a stimulating and open realm of possibilities. For Ree Morton, the latter was most definitely the case. Her art is spontaneous and ironic, but also intelligent and reflective.

Characteristic works are the installations that integrate various media and materials. Language is of special importance. Literalism and poetic obfuscation create complex layouts and systems of meaning. Locations are labeled, so to speak, using word and visual objects, or places are marked in the form of coded installations.

The artist’s oeuvre is interwoven with feminist themes, which are given fine, complex expression in her works. This can be traced back to her almost phenotypic biography, of which the artist herself remained very conscious. She had fled a bourgeois existence as a wife, mother and nurse and found a new identity for herself in contemporary art of the period: «I figured out that life matters, too, and that being an artist is better than being a nurse. Not bad for a girl.»

In conjunction with the exhibition ‘The Mating Habits of Lines – Sketchbooks and Notebooks of Ree Morton’, the Robert Hull Fleming Museum of the University of Vermont has produced an outstanding publication about the written material the artist left behind. This enables a thorough, descriptive study of how Ree Morton came to find herself as an artist. A welcome opportunity to renew discussion of the work of a significant artist based on important works from 1971 to 1977.

We thank the estate of Ree Morton, Allan Schwartzman, and Alexander and Bonin,
New York, for their gracious and willing cooperation.

Gianfranco Verna