Red Wall is a large terracotta-coloured oil painting on a pair of thin rectangular fibreboard panels. These panels combine to form a shape that is square except for two missing sections: one in a long, narrow rectangular form running along the bottom edge, and the other in a shorter rectangular shape positioned at the top left corner. The two boards are pushed close together so that they are touching, and their adjacent edges form a thin dark line running down the middle of the work. The paint covers both boards evenly and has a matt finish. Although the work is painted one single colour, it features some subtle tonal variations, with darker areas appearing at the corners and edges.
This painting was made by the American artist Robert Mangold in his studio on the Bowery in Manhattan, New York, in 1964. It is one of a series of works known as Walls that he made in 1964–5 using standard-sized fibreboard panels. To make Red Wall, Mangold applied paint to the fibreboards using a spray gun so that its surface did not show any signs of his touch, and at this time the artist often thinned his oil paints with turpentine in order to achieve as even a finish as possible. Mangold has stated that the colours used in Red Wall and other works from the mid-1960s were intended to have an ordinary quality rather than being especially beautiful, and that their appearance was inspired by everyday objects that ‘we take for granted’, such as brown paper bags, grey cement or, in this case, red bricks (quoted in David Carrier, ‘Robert Mangold’s “Gray Window Wall”’, Burlington Magazine, vol.138, no.1125, December 1996, p.827).
As is suggested by their titles, Red Wall and other paintings in the Walls series can be linked to architectural structures. Mangold has noted that fibreboard panels are commonly used as building materials and has compared the arrangement of the missing rectangular sections, or ‘openings’, in works in the series with the way that windows form cut-out shapes within walls (quoted in Rosalind Krauss, ‘Robert Mangold, An Interview’, Artforum, vol.12, March 1974, p.36). However, while the earliest works in this series are more explicitly three-dimensional and have parts that resemble architectural elements such as windowsills, later paintings like Red Wall are flatter and do not refer to architecture in such a literal way. In 1999 Mangold stated that he was interested in the way that even very thin paintings like Red Wall can have their own physical presence, like that of an ‘architectural place or space’ (Robert Mangold and Urs Raussmuller, ‘A Talk Before An Exhibition’, in Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea 1999, p.85).
Mangold moved to New York in 1963 and he has said that Red Wall and other works from the same period were influenced by his early experiences of a busy urban environment. In 1999 he stated:
What struck me when I first moved to New York was that so much of what we see, we see in fragments. We see part of a truck going by, or part of a building. We never see anything in completeness. And the first wall paintings, 1964–5, were involved in that idea of sections; each work is a totality, but it implies that much more could be there.
(Mangold in Claire Dienes and Lilian Tone, ‘Interview with Robert Mangold’, The Museum of Modern Art Oral History Program, 18 November 1999, https://www.moma.org/momaorg/shared/pdfs/docs/learn/archives/transcript_mangold.pdf, accessed 10 October 2014.)
This is reflected in Red Wall, which explores the relationship between part and whole through its combination of separate boards into a single painting and through its missing segments, which evoke a sense of incompleteness.
Due to its asymmetrical format and removed sections, Red Wall can be compared with paintings by artists such as Frank Stella, Richard Tuttle and Ronald Davis, who also came to prominence in America in the 1960s and who often shaped their canvases in unusual ways. While making Red Wall Mangold was also working on a number of paintings with relief elements and he has said that these works were influenced by the idea of ‘painting becoming sculpture’ (Mangold in Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea 1999, p.114). However, he has stated that while Red Wall was in his studio alongside these more three-dimensional pieces he felt increasingly drawn to its thinness rather than the sculptural qualities of the other works, and this led him to reject the use of relief components in his paintings (see Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea 1999, pp.83, 114). Since that time Mangold has consistently made works on very thin supports that investigate what he considers to be the fundamental components specific to paintings, namely their flatness and the fact that they are defined by outer edges (Mangold and Raussmuller in Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea 1999, p.83). Red Wall can therefore be seen to mark a key turning point in his practice.
Robert Mangold, exhibition catalogue, Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, Santiago de Compostela 1999, pp.83, 85, 114.
Richard Shiff, ‘Autonomy, Actuality, Mangold’, in Richard Shiff, Robert Storr, Arthur C. Danto and others, Robert Mangold, London 2000, reproduced p.38.
Richard Shiff, ‘Curves Evolve’, in Robert Mangold: Column Structure Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Pace Wildenstein, New York 2007, reproduced p.13.
Supported by Christie’s.