Jane Rosen: The Morandi Series

I believe that nothing can be more abstract, more unreal, than what we actually see. We know that all we can see of the objective world, as human beings, never really exists as we see and understand it. Matter exists, of course, but has no intrinsic meaning of its own, such as the meanings that we attach to it. We can know only that a cup is a cup, that a tree is a tree.

Giorgio Morandi


Most dealers have personal relationships with the artists with whom they work. In the past those relationships began because of a social introduction and then a studio visit or an invitation to a dinner or a meeting at an opening. That was true for Jane Rosen and myself when we first met back in the days of loft parties and the late night downtown art scene. Jane and I became friends, way back in the days when Soho was the capital of the art world and we were much younger too.


We had lost touch for many years, she taught and worked I ran my gallery till 1997 and then was Curator for the Microsoft Art Collection only to find each other on Face Book. I was so happy to see her there and very much struck by the new works she was posting–carvings in glass and stone. In the e-mail exchange that followed I learned that her life had taken her to the west coast where she now lives and works in a beautiful and remote setting of land, trees and wild animals in Northern California. We renewed our friendship and after a visit to her studio and home many months later I felt that I also wanted to present her work as I myself returned to the role of art dealer after a long hiatus.


In one of our conversations Jane reminded me that I had reviewed a show of hers early on in Artnews. It was in those years, way back in the early 80s in fact, when I was going out onto my own. It was the modern forms and use of materials that attracted me to her wall reliefs and her sentiment that these modern forms could carry within their shapes meaning and evoke memories and emotions.


Rosen studio winter 2014

Rosen studio winter 2014


Because of my knowledge of her early work and interest in what she was working on at that moment, Jane invited me to write an essay on her latest sculpture. This time it was for a show entitled light morph / dark morph, now two years ago, and devoted to her exploration of birds as subject matter. As I pointed out in that essay everything Jane makes derives from nature. She is never copying nature or imitating nature but finding ways to transform her intense and daily observations of nature into forms that are emotive and reflect her perceptions of how and why birds act the way they do. Today nature is still at the core of her thinking as she further explores the way nature carves shapes and manipulates forms over time. A student of Minimal and Process art Rosen always seeks to strike a balance between the materials she uses and the way in which they come together.


Glass Falcon

Glass Falcon, 2007, hand-blown glass, pigment & marble mix, 20 x 4 x 2″


The latest series of works are part of what she calls the Morandi Series. To quote from Jane directly,


For me, Morandi speaks to surface and the illusion of form; the relationship of landscape time and domestic time.  He speaks of surface and the relationships of forms. To create a still life by setting up casual sculptural elements, and then drawing from it, is what interests me.


4 Morandi

4 Morandi, 2013, hand-blown pigment glass & limestone, 58 x 31 x 16″


So we see in these multi-part works Rosen setting herself to the task of integrating individual abstract forms into a unified three-dimensional structure. She is not mimicking the Italian masters’ compositions but finding her own right solutions. Her solutions and arrangements are inspired by his remarkably intimate and refined paintings. Rosen wants her sculpture to be of the same kin, a sculpture with its own unique character and sense of the timeless. What Morandi did best was to edit out all that was superfluous to the small, intimate clusters of objects, bottles and jars he gathered into intimate groups and so handsomely portrayed. As one writer has put it in Morandi’s art, ” order is neither invented nor imagined, it results from the act of contemplation.”


Similarly Rosen’s contemplation of nature as explored in her statuary of birds and other animals comes into play as she begins to envision her ideas and build these elegant, freestanding sculptural compositions. Each displays its own distinctive character and collection of elements. In Morandi Composition for example there is a sense of play in the disbursement of objects across and among a cluster of stone pedestals. Moss Morandi, with its moss covered texture and varying green patinas, has the look and feel of a ruin–walls and fragments of a building weathered and worn over time. 4 Morandi is a tribute to the Italian artist’s ideals: simple and subtle in both color and texture.


If Morandi used color to differentiate elements in his painting, Rosen too chooses specific colors to define the forms and shapes of vessels in contrast to the more geometric volumes of columns, plinths and stands that serve as the sub-structure to the objects. The balance of contrasts between the two; the harmony of colored glass and the natural colored limestone create an effect that is a perfect compound of a visual cues matched to well formed materials. For example, Jane and her assistants, carved mallet shapes out of stone akin to those mallet shapes used by Morandi. She then cast those carved forms into opaque glass. At the same time Morandi’s monochromes of shapes translated by Rosen become elegant and tapered three-dimensional bottles.


Unlike Morandi all is not static in Rosen’s world: the glass reflects and absorbs light; the stone cast shadows all in real space and in real time. The art has its own life, if you will, as it is affected by its environment and in turn as it transmits this play of light and shadow.


In this new body of work Rosen asks us to reconsider the idea of the still life. It is not simply a subject, as depicted in painting or represented in photography, but as evidenced by this new work she has placed these objects in a setting that is uniquely their own. They live in their own space; they interact for us but they remain apart, even aloof.  In a ” domestic time” as Rosen suggests.


Morandi Composition

Morandi Composition, 2011, stone & glass


Thinking about Rosen’s next steps brought me to think about the works of Barbara Hepworth and Louise Nevelson that I have seen over the years. In fact these collections of forms remind me of a photograph I bought years ago from a young dealer in New York. It is a photo taken by Hepworth herself of one of her works in her studio long before she could afford to hire a professional photographer. The piece, Two Forms, 1935, is now in the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC.


Both Hepworth and Nevelson created mysterious if not magical arrangements of forms. Both adapted abstract forms derived from natural forms, both seeing through and building with such forms to find tangible abstract solutions


For Rosen the elements are set into a dialogue with each other. There is a balance of forms and also a balance of materials: stone versus glass; glass versus stone; old and new combined. Something found and some made.

If Morandi created an illusionistic pictorial world in which these objects can be looked at and felt than Rosen is drawing us into a real world picture in which her objects inhabit and where they gracefully exist along side us.


Moss Morandi, 2014,  stone & glass

Moss Morandi, 2014, stone & glass


Moss Morandi (detail), 2014, stone & glass

Moss Morandi (detail), 2014, stone & glass