The Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill unveiled a monumental sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein on its front lawn on Friday and is about to open the first major museum survey of work by Jennifer Bartlett, whose stylistic and thematic innovations have established her as one of the most important artists of her generation.
The Lichtenstein sculpture, “Tokyo Brushstroke I & II,” is situated close to the Montauk Highway, just west of the entrance gate, and is the first outdoor installation on the Parrish grounds. According to Terrie Sultan, director of the museum, “Having a signature piece like Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Brushstroke I & II’ and being able to position it the way we did, makes it kind of a beacon and also an announcement. The idea of the brushstroke was interesting to me because we are so much about illuminating the creative process, and the brushstroke is the most profound, fundamental gesture of painting.”
A long-term loan from the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, the sculpture has never before been exhibited.
“Jennifer Bartlett: History of the Universe — Works 1970-2011,” which includes more than 20 artworks that reflect the breadth of her practice, will open Sunday and remain on view through July 13. On Sunday at 11 a.m., Klaus Ottmann, who organized the exhibition for the Parrish and is now curator at large at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., will lead a tour of the exhibition.
While Ms. Bartlett had her first solo show in New York in 1970 and was included in the 1972 Whitney Annual two years later, it was her monumental painting “Rhapsody,” first shown in 1976 at the Paula Cooper Gallery in SoHo, that cemented her reputation.
Spanning some 153 feet of wall space, “Rhapsody” consists of 987 one-foot-square steel plates. It is, according to Mr. Ottmann, “one of the most ambitious works of contemporary American art.” “Rhapsody” is not in the Parrish exhibition; it may be seen at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.
Ms. Bartlett, who has studios in Brooklyn and Amagansett, has continued to alternate between painting on enameled steel plates, which first appeared in her work in the late 1960s, and works on canvas. The Parrish show includes examples of both, as well as two works from 1987, “Boats” and “Double House,” which consist of both painted and three-dimensional representations of their subjects.
Throughout her career, the artist has also managed to move freely between abstraction and figuration. In an interview with Ms. Sultan, she said that “although I keep them separate in my work, it just seemed stupid to me to even say that there was a distinction between abstract art and figurative art. I think they are one and the same.”
“History of the Universe” begins in the 1970s with the artist’s monumental plate paintings, including “237 Lafayette Street,” and extends into the 1980s with, among other works, “Pool,” a three-panel cinematic narrative painting. Ms. Bartlett’s work from the 1990s is represented by selections from “Air: 24 Hours,” a personal series that documents the passage of time, and the multi-paneled “House Paintings.”
In 2004, she began her “Word Paintings,” which incorporated her own writings. On view from this series is the 65-plate painting “Twins,” an homage to her friend the artist Elizabeth Murray. More recent works engage Ms. Bartlett’s recurring themes of houses, gardens, and water, and include the vast double-perspective beach piece “Amagansett Diptych #1,” from 2007-8.
Ms. Bartlett was born in Long Beach, Calif., and educated at Mills College and Yale, from which she received B.F.A. and M.F.A. degrees. Her work is in the collections of major museums throughout the world, among them MoMA, the National Gallery of Australia, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Tate Modern. A 104-page fully illustrated catalog, published by the Parrish and distributed by Yale University Press, accompanies the exhibition.