In Focus

Surface Substitution on 36 Plates 1972 by Jennifer Bartlett

This In Focus presents the first in-depth study of this key work of conceptual art from the 1970s, examining Bartlett’s preoccupation with mathematical concepts, systems theory, industrial materials and mechanised processes – as well as with individual craftsmanship and autographical mark marking.

Jennifer Bartlett
Surface Substitution on 36 Plates 1972
Enamel and silkscreen on 36 steel plates
Displayed: 1925 x 1925 mm
Tate T06637
© Jennifer Bartlett

Surface Substitution on 36 Plates is an installation consisting of steel plates with thousands of hand-painted dots of enamel paint. It exemplifies Bartlett’s early plate paintings that combine mathematical ideas – here the Fibonacci series ­– with the suggestion of the passage of time and the artist’s presence, conveyed through the application of the dots.

Examining the materials, processes and concepts employed in Surface Substitution, this In Focus reveals how the work stages a conflict between rational thought and human inconsistency. It explores the installation’s relationship to systems aesthetics, pop, minimalism, conceptualism and process art, placing Bartlett – an artist who has previously been considered marginal to those movements – at the centre of the numerous challenges to the status and role of painting in New York in the 1970s.

Published in July 2017, the project is authored by Kirsten Swenson (University of Massachusetts, Lowell) with a contribution by Mary L. Garner (Kennesaw State University).

This In Focus project was made possible through support from the Terra Foundation for American Art.

ISBN 978-1-84976-554-1