John McCracken, one of the the most challenging California artists from the 1960’s has died in New York, he was 76. McCracken was known for his fusion of painting with geometric sculpture and embodied an aesthetic style distinct of postwar Los Angeles.
McCracken was born 9 December 1934, in Berkeley and studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts. After his first solo show at L.A.’s adventurous Nicholas Wilder Gallery in 1965, he moved south. He taught for many years at schools in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara before moving to Santa Fe. His work is in most major American museum collections, including those of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. His last solo show was at David Zwirner Gallery in New York who will remain his estate dealer.
In 1966, McCracken, who sighted Barnett Newman as a main influence,generated his signature sculptural form: the plank, a narrow, monochromatic, rectangular board that leans at an angle against the wall. He stated that while simultaneously entering into the three-dimensional realm and physical space of the viewer, I am removing the restrictions of the wall painting to add a new dimension. As the artist noted, “I see the plank as existing between two worlds, the floor representing the physical world of standing objects, trees, cars, buildings, and human bodies. The wall representing the world of the imagination, illusionist painting space,as well as human mental space.”
In 1971-72 he made a rarely seen series of paintings based on Hindu and Buddhist mandalas. They were included in a 40-year McCracken survey exhibited at the Castello di Rivoli Museum in Turin, Italy. McCracken was bedeviled by Stanley Kubrick’s famous science-fiction epic, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” with its iconic image of an ancient monolith floating in outer space. The 1968 film was released two years after the artist made his first plank. McCracken was one of a group of artists whose work was variously described as representing the L.A. Cool School, thanks to its rejection of emotionally expressive gestures; Finish Fetish, in recognition of its pristine color and high-tech surfaces; and Minimalism, because of its reliance on simple geometric forms.
McCracken had lived in Santa Fe, N.M., since 1994 and, according to a spokesman for his Manhattan gallery, had been in ill health for some time.
Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner