Summary

Dulles (Capital) is Morris’s first major print work. The portfolio comprises nine square prints containing abstract geometric grids. Blocks of bright greens, turquoise, yellow, browns, orange and greys are separated by white lines which appear recede into the distance at an extreme perspective. All nine prints may be displayed together, each print separated by 3.5cm of white wall, which becomes part of the work. They form a large square, depicting another, larger grid that echoes the structures within the individual prints. Displayed in this way they provide an off-centre variation of Morris’s painting Constitution Gardens 2000, (private collection). Each print is numbered in the lower right corner to designate its position within the overall grid. The bottom row (Tate P78602-P78604) is made up of large blocks of colour which become more broken up in the middle row (Tate P78599-P78601). By the top row (Tate P78596-P78598) the dense three-dimensional structure has become an intricate array of fragmented blocks and splinters of colour. Alternatively, the prints may be displayed individually or in smaller groups based on their positions within the full scheme.

Morris’s recent work focuses on American cityscapes, including films and series of paintings about mid-town New York, Las Vegas, and Miami. She investigates the ways in which glass and steel skyscrapers communicate the relations between American capitalist ideology and contemporary urban life by physically and psychically encoding those relations upon its reflective glass surfaces. Her work demonstrates the way in which urban space is so determined by corporate advertising that brand imagery has become as much a part of the city experience as architecture. In such paintings as Rio (with Palms) [Las Vegas], 2000 (Tate T07891) masking tape is used to map out straight lines dividing up the canvas, before the application of household gloss paint, which results in a shiny surface. In the prints, a final wash of acrylic varnish was applied over the printing ink to achieve the glossy sheen on the surface of the colours.

The title Dulles (Capital) refers to Dulles International Airport, one of the locations in Morris’s film Capital, 2000, about Washington D.C.. Dulles (Capital) is also the title of a painting in the Capital group of works, many of which relate to other locations in the film. The award winning terminal building at Dulles was designed in 1958 by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen (1910-1961), who also designed the landmark TWA terminal at JFK airport, New York. The prints and paintings are based on photographs of the buildings given in the title, but they are not literal abstractions of those photographs. Only certain structural elements are included in the images which encompass different viewpoints, and introduce colours absent from the source material. For example, Saarinen’s futuristic design of angled glass walls, tapered concrete columns, and curved roof at Dulles are not represented by any recognisable shape but more through the optical qualities of multiple planes and reflections. In this respect Morris’s work represents the rhythmic qualities of cities in much the same way as the famous title sequence in the film North By Northwest, 1959, by Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980), where those rhythms simultaneously convey excitement, paranoia, pleasure and alienation.

In complete installation, the prints of Dulles (Capital) depict a structure composed of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines creating a sense of vertiginous space. Morris combines a number of contradictory references in this approach. The bottom row may be read as referring to the centrality of the grid in minimalist painting as a means to emphasise the flatness of the picture’s surface and the absence of any content. The prints recall such hard-edge abstract paintings as Hyena Stomp 1962 (T00730) by Frank Stella (born 1936), in which neither the structure nor the blocks of colour are assigned foreground or background – each is equal on the surface of the picture plane. However, the middle and top rows of the portfolio contradict that flatness by introducing a receding structure that refers to the importance of the grid in the spatial regimes of International Style architecture and traditional drawings of perspectival space.

Dulles (Capital) was published in London by Charles Booth-Clibborn under his imprint the Paragon Press in an edition of forty-five plus ten sets of artist’s proofs. Tate’s copy is the thirteenth in the edition.

Further Reading:
Sarah Morris: Capital, exhibition catalogue, Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin and Cologne, 2001
Thyrza Nichols Goodeve, Joe Klein, Martin Prinzhorn, ‘Sarah Morris’, Parkett, no.61, 2001, pp.96-134
Hybrids: International Contemporary Painting, exhibition catalogue, Tate Liverpool 2001, pp.34-7

Ben Borthwick
March 2003