Ruth Root has shown at museums throughout the U.S. and abroad, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the MoMA PS1 in New York, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Kunstmuseum Bonn in Germany. Now, the New York-based painter will see her first solo exhibit at a major American museum as part of the 81st installment of the Forum series at the Carnegie Museum of Art.
The show will feature new works created especially for the museum, all showcasing what CMOA acting co-director Eric Crosby calls “Root’s startling command of color, pattern, and shape, as well as her thought-provoking inquiry into what a painting can be.”
“So much of [Root’s] process as a painter, as an artist, is taking all of these things that catch her eye out in the world and allowing them to come into the studio,” says Crosby, who organized the exhibit with Hannah Turpin, curatorial assistant for Modern & Contemporary Art and Photography. “Her work is really about a process of looking at the world, seeing the world with fresh eyes, and discovering new relationships between things that may seem independent or unrelated, and to bring that dynamic of looking into the field of abstract painting.”
The exhibition opens Thu., April 18 with a preview and gallery talk featuring the artist, followed by a celebration at the museum’s monthly late-night Third Thursday event.
Root combines abstraction and digital printing, using panels painted with acrylic and spray paint, all of which are suspended from flexible sewn forms covered in her own printed fabric designs. She has a tendency to use found imagery, drawing from the news media, art history, and online search engines. In this new body of work, Root also incorporated artworks and design objects from CMOA’s collections.
“There’s so much visual information in [Root’s paintings], and she often talks about how, from many images, you zero in on one, and that’s an interesting way to think about how these paintings, which have this immediate attraction and impact as large paintings that kind of pull you in and focus your attention on a handful of images and encourages to look at the surface of painting differently than you have before,” says Crosby.
Crosby says while the Forum series usually serves to highlight emerging or mid-career artists, it’s also a showcase for today’s most inventive contemporary artists, a mission that, in his view, certainly applies to Root.
“There’s a kind of immediate delight or pleasure that you experience when you see her work because the patterns vibrate, the colors are very saturated, and the shapes of her work seem very playful,” says Crosby. “But she’s also a painter’s painter. She’s very interested in the history of painting and making her own mark and contribution. Painters often think in terms of history, like what’s come before may shape what comes next.”
Unlike conventional approaches to art, he adds that she considers both the painting and its support system by creating “elaborate hanging devices” and making them part of the work as opposed to hiding them from the viewer.
Visitors of all ages are also invited to experience the museum in a new way during Looking and Drawing with Ruth Root, a scavenger hunt inspired by Root’s research visits to CMOA. Armed with free guides and specially designed pencils available in the Forum gallery, Root provides an interactive exploration of the museum’s permanent collection of paintings.
“She gives you all these wonderful, imaginative little drawing prompts to draw what you see in the collection, so you begin to look at the collection through her eyes in a way,” says Crosby.
In addition to the scavenger hunt, visitors will have the opportunity to discover the art of pattern-making during Painting! Pattern! Politics! A Creative Workshop with Ruth Root, a free event hosted by and organized in partnership with AIR (Artists Image Resource).
But even as Root captivates with bright colors and fun patterns, Crosby believes her style belies a more serious conversation, one that he believes audiences should engage with.
“She’s incredibly innovative in terms of how she approaches painting, but she’s also creating something that everybody can find a way into,” he says. “Everybody has a way to identify with what this artist is drawing from and what she’s creating.”