News

ROSEMARIE CASTORO (1939 – 2015)

New York, May 19th, 2015

 

ROSEMARIE CASTORO (1939-2015)

With great sadness we announce that our dear friend and artist Rosemarie Castoro unexpectedly passed away this last weekend.

Born in 1939 to a Brooklyn based family of Italian origin, Rosemarie Castoro was a central protagonist among of the New York Minimalists and one of the few highly recognized female painters in this milieu.

Throughout her career Rosemarie Castoro regarded herself a “futurist”. Her visionary thinking found deep realization in her highly pioneering and extensive oeuvre of the most profound artistic consequence.

During her student years at Pratt Institute in the early 1960s, Castoro found her initial inspiration in modern dance and choreography exploring concrete movement in space.

“When I danced I leapt through the air and continued to remain up there…I felt a self-propelled air- stretch. It was a way to leave this earth, to bring coherence to reality, to find a path again, to deeper the grooves and push the forest of the half blind.”
-R. Castoro, quoted in: Lucy Lippard, ARTFORUM, 1975

By 1964 Rosemarie Castoro decided to channel her central aesthetic concerns focusing on painting. Castoro created henceforth a pioneering body of work of highly sophisticated minimal abstraction. Her form experimentation first defined in colored drawings was soon further developed in prominently scaled canvases. At times Castoro’s abstract pattern paintings grew into the visionary formats of public murals and friezes. Yet, these large-scale works show the same filigree structure and detail as her intimate works on paper, – the laboratory of all of Castoro’s soon expanding practice. The exploration of the dynamics of space and movement remained at the heart of her concerns for decades, realized in the 1960s in structural experiments exemplified in her “Interference” paintings and drawings, formalist testimonies of events and moods of a particular day or month. These works were paralleled by Castoro’s “Y” unit paintings and drawings realized in a radical range of color field compositions. Frank Stella pronounced Castoro as one of the most original colorists of her time.

“In 1965 a dominant element emerged: the “Y.” I answered its question by painting “Y’s” on 7’ square single color fields.”
-R. Castoro

“In 1964-65 Castoro was making allover abstractions of gestural but tightly packed tile-like shapes which evolved into a basic “Y” unit, and then into strands or brands, like beams of light intersecting and interweaving in space.”
-Lucy Lippard, ARTFORUM, 1975

Rosemarie Castoro was working in direct dialogue with the new Minimalist tendencies. In a recent statement in the TATE ETC. magazine (Summer 2015 issue) on her friendship with Agnes Martin, Castoro wrote: “I had met Agnes in her studio in the late 1960s. We were both painters who made ‘paste-ups’ for a living, with triangles and T-squares on drafting boards as our tools in trade. I was using Prismacolor pencils at the time, cutting out huge triangles from cardboard to make multichrome paintings, and the straight edge of the canvas stretchers as my ‘drafting table’. Back then painters had a camaraderie, meeting through other painters. Often we would meet at bars, or visit each other’s studios for tea. In 1972 I made a ‘cut-out’ brush work for Agnes which was part of a series of wall sculptures created with a non-art brush – this one was a large broom – that spelled out her name in Pitman shorthand. I had made a series of these portraits based on friends’ names. ‘Guinness Martin’ came about as a disguise of Agnes’s name.

While her Soho loft studio was a central meeting point of the scene, Castoro insisted on an intense and introspective studio practice in which she often performatively interacted with her own work, witnessed only by the eye of a self-timer polaroid camera. Throughout the 1960s Castoro worked in a parallel and independent universe to her then artist life partner Carl Andre.

In 1968 Castoro began her “Inventory” drawings and paintings based on mundane perceptions and particular events structured in numeric systems translating into a form of ‘diaristic abstraction’. Works inscribed with “In Celebration of Part-Time Work”, “Portrait of Sol Lewitt with Donors and Friends – October 3, 1968” or “Controlled Arbitrary Statement – October 6, 1968” were created.

“The ‘inventory’ drawings and paintings emerged from the split vision experienced in taking inventory of my surroundings. I began structuring visual realty in numbers. By noticing dominant objects my number system did not exceed five including a quality count of 0 and 5. I made lists of numbers and after a while, what was seen was absorbed into the listing. I plotted them on either side of the paper and canvas, left and right, and made connections.”
-R. Castoro, Feb 25, 2014

Since 1969 Castoro participated in the now legendary “Art Worker’s Coalition” meetings “after it was opened up to all artists, where previously I was excluded from meetings at my own loft, which included Takis, Hans Haacke and Carl Andre”. By this time Castoro extended her practice into the fields of Concrete Poetry, Concept Art and Site-Specific interventions.

“In March, 1969, Castoro rode her bicycle at midnight from Spring Street to 52nd Street, leaking white enamel paint from a pierced can and leaving behind a linear trail. In April she “cracked” a block of the sidewalk on 13th Street with a meandering line of thin silver tape; in May she used the same medium to splinter the rooms of the Paula Cooper Gallery, and in September, she made a gigantic cracking at the Seattle World’s Fair Center. It visually evoked a seismic disturbance quite out of proportion to the material expended.”
-L. Lippard, ARTFORUM, 1975

In a show at Paula Cooper Gallery “Gallery Cracking” Castoro drew an irregular line through the entire space with silver tape alluding to a future vision in which this demarcated area would be broken off the existing space, ‘like a giant biting a piece out of the building’ (R. Castoro, Feb 2014).

In the late 1960s Rosemarie Castoro realized a series of instant sculptures formed out of with aluminum rolls of various width and length. In the first piece “Swift Justice” (1969) a paper-thin aluminum roll on a hanger becomes the intriguing trompe l’oeil for a toilet roll. The piece was Castoro’s “comment on how the art market was treating sales of paintings. Jonathan Swift who wrote Gulliver’s Travels was my inspiration.” The shiny silver Pop appeal of “Swift Justice” combined with its ready-made character, Castoro took on Duchamp’s whimsical commentary of the infamous Pissoir to create a satire on the new Warholian artist paradime relentlessly ‘playing the market’.

 

Around this time and in the context of the Vietnam War, Castoro’s work politicizes, most deeply exemplified in her Concrete Poetry work translating the exterior events into an introspection of the daily struggles of resistance and rebellion in an artist’s life and view of the world.

“In 1969 she created the 24-part series of visual poetry A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR. In conceptual drawings and diaristic pieces Castoro developed a quasi-scientific system with which she structured her daily activities to an absurd degree of ratio, – “the best ‘fiction’ I have read about the life of an artist”. – Lucy Lippard, ARTFORUM, 1975

Invited by Lucy Lippard to meetings of the feminist art movement circles, Rosemarie Castoro – strictly dedicated to her non-representational abstract style of work – kept distance to the movement. However, she was acutely aware that women artists working in a formalist style milieu were not spared the gender-based dismissal of the time. In 1971 she recalls in ArtNews an encounter with Leo Castelli in the 1960s: “Castoro, Castoro, I saw your paintings at Johnny’s. I liked them very much. I thought you were a boy. I turned around and went back to Spring Street, producing my next body of work. My energies in the world were for those not yet born. …Cezanne didn’t live on institutional acceptance. Time validates and invalidates. …”.

In 1972 Castoro introduced at Tibor de Nagy Gallery her first giant post-minimal sculptures, the ‘Free Standing Walls’. The structure of these imposing installations allures once more to performative interaction. The surfaces of the panels are treated with graphite, gesso and marble dust, thickly applied creating massive rough brush strokes, as if to mock the elegant economy of Abstract Expressionism. Some pieces of this series grew into multi-compartmental installations of institutional dimension.

“These were paintings taken off the wall and transformed into their own enclosures – “screens”, “corners” a “revolving door”, and a curving “tunnel entranceway”. Graphite rubbed over a dense impasto surface of gesso and modeling paste provided a muscular abstraction of their creation. The vigorous swashes resisted and eventually rebelled against rectangular confinement, and during 1972 the “brushstrokes” broke away and became separate entities.”
-L. Lippard, ARTFORUM, 1975

Since the 1970s to the last years of her life Rosemarie Castoro dedicated her work particularly to sculptural experimentation. In 1979 the artist created a spectacular group of twenty-four steel “Flashers” for an outdoor exhibition in Artpark, Lewiston, New York. Another group of giant 8 feet high, galvanized steel “Flashers” were installed in public space in Manhattan on 780 Third Avenue in 1984. The “Flashers” and Castoro’s organic black epoxy suspension and expansion sculptures, – beginning with the works “Burial”, “Growing” and “Tunnel” in 1973 -, were to became signature pieces henceforth. Castoro continuously explored new materials for her sculptural work, – often with a very physical investment of production –, while every stage of experimentation was accompanied by an intense activity of drawing and writing.

 

Like many women artists of her generation Rosemarie Castoro had not been granted the recognition she deserved. However, in the last two years her work has received a new introduction in the contemporary international art world in numerous public and institutional exhibitions in Brazil, London, Paris and New York. Last Spring New York Times quoted Castoro’s Minimal performance based paintings as “perfectly relevant” today.

We are very happy that the artist still experienced this new enthusiastic recognition of her oeuvre in her lifetime.

 

Her long time friends and collaborators also and importantly remember Rosemarie Castoro’s great social engagement. Hal Bromm writes:

“Many knew Rosemarie through her art, her talents were vast. As the treasurer of HIV Arts Network, a NYC-based non-profit organization dedicated to the emotional support of fine and performing artists, Rosemarie was a gifted fund-raiser and advocate. Working to bring the program’s benefits to many, her compassion and vitality will be deeply missed.”

 

“She had a deep and personal connection with the gay community here in NYC and I think was hit pretty hard with friends getting sick and dying in the 80’s. From stories she told she stuck by them through thick and thin.” (Christian Kunz, May 18, 2015)

 

Rosemarie Castoro will be deeply missed by her family, friends, colleagues and collaborators of all generations. A very uniquely gifted, visionary, generous, gentle, elegant and warm-hearted person has left us.

 

Anke Kempkes

Gallerist

BROADWAY 1602