Harriet Korman’s Nonchalant Rigor

Featured image: Harriet Korman, “Untitled” (2023), oil on canvas 24 x 30 inches

Harriet Korman’s paintings are simultaneously rigorous and nonchalant. Her palette is unlike anyone else’s. The 10 oil paintings in her current exhibition, Portraits of Squares at Thomas Erben Gallery, all dated 2022 or ’23 and measuring 24 by 30 inches, are dominated by different hues of brown, along with various reds, blues, greens, and yellows, and black and white. She never adds white to any of her colors and wants the surface of her shapes uniformly solid. The edges are irregular, as she does not use tape. The wildest form we see in this exhibition is a trapezoid. As might be expected from Korman’s faith in abstraction and painting’s power to stir up feelings in the viewer without being guided by language, all the works are untitled.

One painting from 2023 incorporates white as color, and a handful of others use black. These colors are assigned no more importance than any others, and each painting has a distinct palette, while her squares are different sizes and occupy different places in the picture plane, making every composition in this series of works unique. The show also includes an early square painting, “Untitled” (1979), on the wall behind the gallery desk. Its color combination (three greens, dark violet, and brown) hints at what is to come.

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