The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum

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Important Update

June 27, 2010 to January 2, 2011 |

Rackstraw Downes: Under the Westside Highway

This exhibition chronicles the creation of Rackstraw Downes’s three-part painting, Under the Westside Highway at 145th Street: The North River Water Pollution Control Plant, and a related painting of the George Washington Carver housing project at 103rd Street and Park Avenue in New York City.

Downes works exclusively on site, without the use of a camera, bringing his canvases to the location he is painting. He worked on the Carver House painting in the mornings, and the first painting of the triptych (the middle panel) in the afternoons.

The exhibition starts with the small sketches (immediately behind you) of the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge. These were made from the park atop the Pollution Control Plant, in 2000. Later, Downes explored the area beneath the West Side Highway (a space which the artist describes in his journal as “very ‘ancient Rome’; Piranesi-like … with enormous columns, and some nice curves …”) in the drawings and small canvases seen on that wall.

In a vitrine are the journals the artist kept during the intensive, day-in, day-out painting process. Excerpts from the journals are in the exhibition brochure. Some of the sketches and drawings for the triptych are on the far wall, to your right.

The finished paintings were primarily completed between May 2008 and August 2009. What appears to be a moment in time has been constructed by the artist—even the joggers and cyclists are carefully rendered from observation, as you can see in the central vitrine which houses a small selection of study drawings.

In the four drawings to your left, the artist explores subtle changes in the composition, leading to the final painting of the Carver housing project.

Harry Philbrick, Curator.