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Knoedler & Company Presents Exhibition of Paintings by Conrad Marca-Relli
Conrad Marca-Relli, "San Miguel" S-P-13-78, 1978. Collage and mixed media on canvas, 28 x 34 1/4 inches, 71.3 x 87 cm. Photo: Courtesy Knoedler & Company.
NEW YORK, NY.- Conrad Marca-Relli’s life and career were restlessly peripatetic—he moved back and forth between Europe and the United States, with homes at various times in New York City, East Hampton, Rome, Paris, Ibiza, and Parma—even for a time living on a houseboat on the Seine. In addition, his frequent travels included two trips to Mexico (in 1940 and 1952), where the geometric abstract quality of the white adobe architecture, seen in intensely contrasting light and shadow, proved extremely influential on his cityscapes, as well as his evolving work in collage.

As a condition of duality characterized his pattern of residency throughout his life, so too, in his art, Marca- Relli kept a foothold both in abstraction and figuration. He never gave himself over entirely to pure abstraction, but found he was either inclined to abstract a figurative reference or to travel back and forth in his work between figuration and total abstraction.

In his catalogue essay, Senso Architettonico, Carter Ratcliff identifies the “architecture” of art-making as a unifying and core principle in Marca-Relli’s work, one which led him ultimately away from painting per se, to the “construction” of collages. As early as 1951, in an ongoing series of town- and cityscapes, the artist began exploring a theme that brought together his attention to structure in his work; his literal engagement with architecture; his response to the history and specificity of the locales he visited; and the metaphorical underpinning the theme allowed for. Metaphorical depictions of towns and cities recur throughout Western art history—from Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s 14th century allegorical murals in the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, to the urban world of Edward Hopper, to the metaphysical cityscapes of Mario Sironi and Giorgio de Chirico. Indeed Marca-Relli’s stacked dwellings and perforated façades, as well as his desolate, depopulated views, have much in common with these artists. Ratcliff has written:

Seen in isolation the Cityscapes of 1951–52 are astonishing. Rendered in a palette of grays at once gloomy and luminous, they are filled with a melancholy that is not mere sadness but, rather, an exalted awareness of the humanity we have shared in the cities we began to build more than five millennia ago. Charging ordinary buildings with the weight of history, these paintings are all the more remarkable when we see them against the backdrop of the New York art world in the early 1950s.

Despite the dominance of Abstract Expressionism in postwar American art, Marca-Relli’s cityscapes had relevance and resonance for his contemporaries. In 1976, Harold Rosenberg recalled of Marca-Relli that the first strong impression made on me by his canvases was a show of his “cityscapes.” The U.S. Pavilion at the 1956 Venice Biennale was an exhibition entitled, American Artists Paint the City, curated by Katharine Kuh of The Art Institute of Chicago. Included was Marca-Relli’s 1951 New York cityscape, La Città. The series continued to evolve in Marca-Relli’s work, and we find him passing through widely diverging treatments and variations on the subject through the late 1990s.

Conrad Marca-Relli: City to Town, spans the years 1942 to 1996, and includes over twenty paintings and collages. The exhibition remains on view at Knoedler & Company through July 29.

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