Hirshhorn Announces Museum Premiere of Sean Scully’s Venice Biennale “Landline” Paintings

Exhibition Features Never Before Seen Works in Acclaimed Series
April 9, 2018
News Release
Sean Scully, The Gatherer

The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden will present the museum premiere of Sean Scully’s (b. 1945) acclaimed “Landline” series Sept. 13–Jan. 6, 2019. One of the major highlights of the 56th Venice Biennale, the abstract paintings represent a dramatic and seminal shift in the work of one of today’s most important abstract artists, and the exhibition marks the first chance for audiences to experience the full range of Scully’s latest evolution, including nearly two dozen works never before seen by the public. Following its Hirshhorn debut, “Landline” will travel to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, in spring 2019.

“Sean Scully: Landline” traces the series’ expression through a variety of media, with nearly 40 oil paintings, pastels, watercolors and photographs (1999–2017), and layered aluminum Stack sculptures, iconic forms that reflect in three dimensions the horizontal movement of his paintings. Vibrating with urgency and beauty, together these works form a continuous current of color that will pulsate through the Hirshhorn’s circular second-floor gallery.

“Landline” debuts more than 20 years after the Hirshhorn opened Scully’s first mid-career retrospective in 1995, a pivotal exhibition that illuminated Scully’s own artistic transformation and cemented his status at the center of contemporary abstract painting.

“Sean Scully continues to be one of the most influential painters working today,” said Hirshhorn Director Melissa Chiu. “At the Hirshhorn, we are dedicated to examining and presenting the many different stages of an artist’s career, and in Sean’s case, we are honored to have the opportunity to build upon the narrative of his 1995 survey exhibition. Throughout the course of his career, Sean has revolutionized abstract painting, and we look forward to showcasing this full scope of this important body of work for the first time.”

Known for combining the geometry of European concrete art with the ethereality of American abstraction, Scully’s thick, gestural brushstrokes over grids of stripes and squares evoke the energy and beauty of the natural world. His “Landline” works are largely inspired by his years in Ireland, particularly his time looking out to the sea. In these moments, he saw the layers of the world pressed into the space in front of him, forming the stacks that would come to characterize this series. The expressive and unconstrained bands of color reach beyond abstraction and into the sublime, where the contours of landscapes unfold to reveal the physical and emotional dimensions of experience, trauma and memory.

According to Scully, “I was always looking at the horizon line—at the way the end of the sea touches the beginning of the sky, the way the sky presses down on the sea and the way that line, that relationship, is painted.”

“Scully has developed a singular style, rooted in the traditions of Abstract Expressionism, while simultaneously reflecting a deep consideration of the natural world,” said Stéphane Aquin, the Hirshhorn’s chief curator. “Inspired by his personal memories, the ‘Landline’ paintings demonstrate how the essential elements of light, movement and color can be pared down to their most fundamental and universal forms, while still evoking the complexities of reality and referencing the history of painting itself.”

The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly illustrated catalog, featuring an interview of Scully by Aquin, an essay by Patricia Hickson, the Emily Hall Tremaine Curator of Contemporary Art at the Wadsworth Atheneum, and original poetry by Kelly Grovier, inspired by “Landline” and written specifically for this publication.

About the Artist

Scully lives and works in New York and Germany. He recently became one of the only Western artists to have had a career-length retrospective exhibition in China (his 2014 exhibition of over 100 paintings traveled from Shanghai to Beijing), and he was recently the subject of solo exhibitions in São Paulo, Brazil, at the Pinacoteca do Estado; in Neuhaus, Austria, in the inaugural show at the new Museum Liaunig; in Venice, Italy, during the Biennale; in Dublin, where the National Gallery of Ireland exhibited five major paintings from the collection of 40 works held by the Tate in London, as well as his recent photographs; and in Cork, Ireland, at the Crawford Art Gallery. He is the recipient of the 2016 Harper’s Bazaar Art International Artist of the Year Award, has twice been shortlisted for the Turner Prize and his works are included in the permanent collections of nearly every major North American museum, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, Art Institute of Chicago, Broad Art Foundation, High Museum of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, National Gallery of Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Whitney Museum of American Art, among many others.

Also opening in September is “Sean Scully: Inside Outside” at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Scully’s first museum exhibition of sculpture and painting in the U.K., Sept. 29–Jan 6, 2019. 

About the Hirshhorn

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is the national museum of modern and contemporary art and a leading voice for 21st-century art and culture. Part of the Smithsonian, the Hirshhorn is located prominently on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Its holdings encompass one of the most important collections of postwar American and European art in the world. The Hirshhorn presents diverse exhibitions and offers an array of public programs on the art of our time—free to all, 364 days a year. For more information, visit hirshhorn.si.edu.

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Allison Peck

(202) 633-2825

peck@si.edu