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Ross Bleckner - Artists - Petzel Gallery

Ross Bleckner (b. 1949, New York, NY)

Emerging as a prominent artist in New York during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, Ross Bleckner’s paintings are an investigation of change, loss, and memory, often suggesting meditations on the body, health and disease, much like a memento mori. “The idea that the body is so perfect, until it’s not perfect. It’s a fragile membrane that separates us from disaster.” His immersive paintings, whether pure abstraction of stripes or dots, or more representational renderings of birds, flowers, and brains, elicit a powerful hypnotic and dizzying effect. Smoothly layered on the canvas surface against a darker gray background, Bleckner’s famous multicolored volumetric circles or “cells” look like droplets of blood or molecules viewed under a microscope.

To this day, Bleckner is the youngest artist to receive a midcareer retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, at the age of 45. His paintings can be found in several major museums, such as the Museum of Modern Art and in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, as well as numerous exhibitions, including at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin; Reina Sofia, Madrid; L.A. County Museum, Los Angeles; Kunstmuseum Luzern, Luzern; and Zentrum Paul Klee, Ber.

Ross Bleckner’s work often touches on human vulnerability, evoking both the psychological struggles of the mind and the viruses that attack the physical form. He started his practice in the 1980s, when New York was in the grip of the Aids epidemic. He responded to this time through painting, and by starting an organisation which focused on alternative therapies and education. As he tells me, “that’s when I realised there are limitations to being an artist. You can say as much as you want to say, but some things you have to do outside your studio.”

Emma Steer on Ross Bleckner, Elephant, 2020

Career Highlights

Ross Bleckner - Artists - Petzel Gallery

Installation view, Ross Bleckner, Guggenheim, 1995

1949 Born in Hewlett Harbor on Long Island

1971 Graduates with a BA in fine art from NYU. While at NYU, Bleckner studies with Sol LeWitt and Chuck

1973 Earns his MFA at the California Institute of the Arts where he meets and becomes friends with David Salle

1975 Cunningham Ward Gallery in New York hosts Bleckner’s first solo exhibition

1979 Begins showing with Mary Boone Gallery

1980 Begins his Stripe paintings which were inspired by the work of Bridget Riley

1984 Exhibits a large painting at New York’s East Village gallery, Nature Morte, attracting attention to his work

1987  Begins his Constellation series Participates in the Whitney Biennial

1988  The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art organizes his first solo museum exhibition. Begins his Architecture of the Sky canvases

Ross Bleckner - Artists - Petzel Gallery

Installation view, Overhead and Below, Neues Museum, 2019

1990 Begins his Cell series in response to the AIDS epidemic and referring to diseased human cells.

1995 the Guggenheim Museum hosts a midcareer retrospective of Bleckner’s work, making him, at the age of 45, the youngest artist to date to have a retrospective at the museum

2004 Opens the exhibition Dialogue with Space at the Esbjerg Art Museum in Denmark

2016 Presents his 16th solo exhibition at Mary Boone Gallery

2019 Exhibits for the first time with Petzel Gallery

Has an exhibition at the Neues Museum in Germany

2020 Albertina Museum highlights works from the Jablonka