Window to grid

Sarah Morris, ‘Rio (with Palms) [Las Vegas]’ 2000
Sarah Morris
Rio (with Palms) [Las Vegas] 2000
© Sarah Morris

One of the central conventions of Western art is the idea that the painted canvas can be viewed as a window onto the world; that the existence of a flat surface is concealed and the painting presents the illusion of real life. Modern artists have both adopted and challenged this treatment of painting, leading them to create works that reassert the presence of the flat canvas or play with the idea of the penetrable or illusory nature of that surface; in some works there is a deliberate formal oscillation between flatness and three-dimensional space.

The grid has become a key device in this understanding of the canvas as both a window and a flat surface. The grid suggests the division of a window into panes of glass through which the world beyond can be seen, whilst simultaneously reminding the viewer of the presence of the two-dimensional surface they are viewing. In Modern painting, it has become one of the fundamental and seemingly severe tools used to create an anti-naturalistic, abstract-geometric art, an art that emphasises only its own innate qualities – the flat canvas and the presence of paint applied to it.

More recently, artists have continued to find rich territory in the grid for the creation of painting concerned with the idea of pure illusion or pure abstraction, or with subverting these terms. While at first what we see in Sarah Morris’s painting Rio (with Palms) [Las Vegas] 2000 is an entirely abstract grid, in fact the painting is based on the pattern created by the windowed exterior of the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas. Rather than concentrating exclusively on formal qualities, Morris’s work also refers to economic power relations embodied in the corporate architecture of capitalism.