To conclude our Southampton summer season, American artist Pat Steir will curate a special exhibition focused on the revelatory thrill of pairing works by artists across medium and genre. Work by Cindy Sherman will be paired with that of Mickalene Thomas, Rita Ackermann with Avery Singer, Mary Heilmann with Martha Tuttle, and Steir’s own work with that of Rashid Johnson.
Steir’s title for the presentation, ‘Two Pieces in the Shape of a Pear,’ is inspired by French composer Erik Satie’s famous duet for piano, ‘Trois morceaux en forme de poire’ (1903). Accordingly, the duets that comprise her exhibition pose many of the same questions the artist began to pursue forty years ago in her monumental painting montage, ‘The Brueghel Series (A Vanitas of Style)’ (1982 – 84). Comprising 64 panels, each exploring the style of an artist or art historical movement, this opus allowed Steir to reveal and revel in a compendium of connections and deviations between periods and approaches—capturing the often-surprising characteristics that unite and distinguish them. Steir was interested in comparing these styles not only to one another, but to the times in which they existed.
By pairing works with similar conditions and subjects for the exhibition at Hauser & Wirth Southampton, Steir foregrounds both similarities and differences in the sensibilities and approaches of her chosen artists. For example, the pairing of Steir’s own poetic abstraction ‘Roman Series (II)’ (1993) with Rashid Johnson’s ghostly ‘Surrender Painting “Pouring”’ (2023) invites the viewer to compare and contrast the prevailing cultural contexts and lived experiences of two artists who at first glance might seem to exist in unbridgeable parallel planes.
The figurative and abstract languages that Rita Ackermann and Avery Singer use in their paintings reveal the artist’s hand in Ackermann’s work while disguising it in Singer’s, raising provocative questions about art historical hierarchies. Works by Cindy Sherman and Mickalene Thomas highlight both artists’ diverse approaches to photography via their use of different iconography, motifs and even media to embed complex layers of meaning within their pictures.
The geometric vocabularies deployed by Mary Heilmann and Martha Tuttle resonate across decades. ‘Two Pieces in the Shape of a Pear’ questions the ways in which works of art can express their cultural moment, whether through compositional devices or choice of subject matter. Steir has remarked that, ‘All art which endures the centuries can be considered great art—it symbolizes to us that there is something common among us—to our condition. Art that endures allows us to speak of the human condition.’ That sensitivity to context and cultural reverberation remains central to her art and thinking today.