Harriet Korman’s Brutal Realism

a hallway with paintings on the wall
Photo credit: Fernando Sandoval/MW

In Harriet Korman’s exhibition titled Portraits of Squares, the squares in question are either nested within the framework of a grid or stand alone as discreet entities surrounded by blocks of color. Her palette, in the main, is made of secondary and tertiary colors, which for the most part, are applied in an opaque and unmodulated manner — her surfaces tend to be flat and dry. Korman uses color both as a formal element to reinforce her composition’s structure as well as spatially. As one moves around the gallery, there seems to be no logical progression or sense to the paintings’ variations. The canvases, all of the same dimensions, are rectangular and are hung on the horizontal at eye level; their sequencing refuses to surrender an associative, conceptual, or anecdotal narrative. What one is left with is the fact they all, in part, reference squares and that they are all relatively different in approach. Subsequently, it is hard to determine if the “portraits” represent systemic deviations on a singular theme or if each painting was individually intuited. Behind the reception desk hangs a painting from 1979 whose forms are organic, their edges blurred, and whose surface is mottled. This painting stands as a reminder that Korman works thematically, and the present paintings are an aspect of her broader investigation of abstract painting’s various idioms.

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