‘Sean Scully: The Shape of Ideas’ reviewed in WSJ
27 July 2021
The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, designed by Tadao Ando, includes massive interior concrete walls and ceilings and exterior walls of glass, overlooking a large reflecting pool. Natural light, enlivened by rippling water, bathes the gray cement planes in flickering, steely blues, silvers, greens, yellows and violets. This is the environment—architecture transformed into painting—in which I saw the approximately 100 paintings and works on paper in “Sean Scully: The Shape of Ideas,” a nearly five-decade survey of Mr. Scully’s abstractions, co-curated by Timothy Rub, director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and PMA assistant curator Amanda Sroka.
Mr. Ando’s impressionistic, concrete rectangles are stiff competition for any artist. But even more so for a painter such as Mr. Scully, a sensualist who makes photographs, figurative paintings and abstract sculptures, but whose flag is planted firmly in rectangular geometric abstraction, and whose palette favors variously hued grays.
“Wall of Light Desert Night” (1999)—interlocking bars of black, blue, tan and gray, and 11 feet wide—shines like Sahara moonlight. In the sumptuous oil “Black Winter Robe” (2004)—inspired by the portraits of Titian and Diego Velázquez, and over 7 feet tall—vibrating black, gray and brown rectangles, advancing toward us, hover over a crimson ground, suggesting Venetian light. These and other abstractions by Mr. Scully, in dialogue with Mr. Ando’s lambent, gray planes, transcend mere “bricks” and “walls.” If not actually painting transformed into architecture, they dazzle in their own right.