November 9 – December 30, 2023
November 9 – December 30, 2023
McClain Gallery is pleased to announce Ted Stamm (1944 – 1984), our first solo show of the late artist’s abstract work. Ted Stamm is recognized as one of the more rigorous and impactful artists of his generation.
In his New York City studio, starting in 1968, Stamm developed and researched a focused series of paintings, works on paper, and studies that followed strict rules and forms. Woosters, Dodgers, and documentation of his street art series titled Designators carry the bulk of our exhibition. Stamm’s practice extended beyond his studio, to areas including mail art, artists books, photography, site-specific installations, and many others. Many of Stamm’s inspirations derive from observing everyday objects, experiences, and events, such as seeing an abstract shape on the street or lines on a baseball field. Stamm’s works are fully abstract, and it is unnecessary for the viewer to know the origins of what they are looking at in order to experience them the way the artist intended. Black is a consistent component of Stamm’s work, a color that he associated with rebellion, rigor, and reduction: the keystones of his expansive practice.
Our exhibition includes a major shaped canvas painting, smaller paintings on shaped supports, several iconic graphite drawings, collage, photographic documentation of his street art, and archival material. The grouping represents a broad range of the meticulously documented and varied branches of his art practice. Stamm's untimely death at the age of forty has translated into some obscurity to his name, but the mystique of the man and intensity of his production make up for his short lifetime. We are grateful to the Ted Stamm Estate for their collaboration on this exhibition.
In 1974, Stamm began the Woosters series that he continued to develop throughout his life. The work consists of a rectangle with a shorter triangle attached to the left. The triangle shape derived from a found form Stamm discovered on Wooster Street in SoHo Lower Manhattan, New York where he lived and worked from 1970–1984.
The Wooster paintings and works on paper went through many transformations, and while the geometry of the shape remained the same, the scale, color and material varied. The early works were heavily textured, painterly, drippy, and experimental, and included more loose gestures similar to the early Dodgers work. As the surface became less gestural, the shape became elongated and the height of the canvas decreased to include the Lo Wooster series that were installed lower to the ground. The Wooster works on paper and studies further emphasize the importance of how drawing is central to the way Stamm worked and conceptually developed the work, as demonstrated by the numerous studies and finished autonomous work on paper created simultaneously with the paintings.
In 1975, Stamm simultaneously developed the Dodgers and the Woosters series. The former series remained a focus throughout the artist's practice until his death in 1984, and comprises the largest series of work he created consisting of paintings, works on paper, sketches, tags, documentations of street art, and mail art.
Starting in 1975 through 1978, Dodgers were titled with the abbreviation “DGR” for “Dodger”. Stamm took the series' title from the Brooklyn Dodgers' baseball team, before the eponymous (and legendary) team moved to Los Angeles. The Dodgers' curved forms and right angles derive from the shape of the baseball field diamond, right at the intersection of the base paths at home plate. Stamm became increasingly engaged with the concept of speed, and so Dodgers works evolved into the “C-DGR” for Concorde Dodgers in 1983. The “C” in the title refers to the supersonic Concorde aircraft, which Stamm would often travel to see land and take off at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Stamm enacts an almost cartographic transposition of these horizontal topographies – the baseball diamond, the trajectory of the Concorde – into the vertical orientation of his painting surfaces.
Stamm’s works are fully abstract, and it is unnecessary for the viewer to know the origins of what he or she is looking at in order to experience them the way the artist intended. Stamm selected his shapes precisely for their irreducibility to anything specific in the sense of being familiar and known to the viewer. The early Dodgers, consisting of eccentric shapes, were painterly and drippy and often created with multiple canvases. In 1978, the shape morphed into a more regular silhouette with arched stretchers that emphasized frontality, flatness, and the integration of the overall form with the internal drawing of the painted canvas. All of the paintings continued Stamm’s investigation into the possibilities of shape, line, pigment, canvas, and architectonic structure.
DESIGNATORS: STREET ART
In 1976, Stamm started a series of street art work that he labeled Designators. The primary methods used were stencils sprayed or brushed with paint, or stamped adhesive labels. The stencils took the form of the Dodger, “T” or “TT” shape; the adhesive labels originated from the Wooster shape. Stamm continued the series until 1980 and documented these works extensively over time. The photographic documentation included different one point street perspectives at various locations in New York City.
Stamm’s peers included many artists creating work in relation to the streets of New York City. Richard Artschwager began his Blps street art series in 1968 in various street locations. In 1973, Forrest Myer installed The Wall, a minimal large scale street mural a few blocks from Stamm’s studio, questioning the concept of public space and scale. In 1976, the same year that Stamm started his Designator series, Richard Hambleton’s police “chalk” outline, part of a Crime scenes series, started appearing in Lower Manhattan. Also in 1976, Richard Artschwager installed a number of his Blps at the recently opened PS1 in Long Island City. Two years later, in 1978, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s SAMO tags started appearing around New York City; Sol Lewitt also started exploring Photogrid: photographic documentation of doors bringing the street inside the art gallery. In 1980, Keith Haring started his graffiti art in subways and was included in a major “Post-Graffiti” exhibition in 1983 at the Sidney Janis Gallery. These are just a few examples of the work that could be found in the streets and subways predominantly in Lower Manhattan at the time.
Stamm’s “Dodger” Designators were created with a custom metal stencil Dodger shape sprayed with paint in locations in and around New York City that had significance to him: the building he lived in, the steps of his local post office, the building in which a close friend lived. On the first visit he painted the shape; on a second visit, if the image had been altered, he painted a silver Dodger over it; the third time, he stenciled a black “T” on the silver shape; and on the final visit, he made a silver “T”. The Designator series further developed with the Woosters adhesive labels during June and July of 1980, each documented and photographed with each intervention. White and orange vinyl labels were quickly and discreetly applied to automobile license plates and bumpers throughout Soho, New York. Each automobile was documented through two photographs, one close up and one at distance to show context and scale. This series as a whole, and particularly the Dodgers Designators, not only designated places of biographic importance but also marked the passage of time emblematic of Stamm’s art: it registered his presence in the world.
WORKS IN EXHIBITION
Ted Stamm (b. 1944, Brooklyn, NY; d. 1984, New York, NY) exhibited internationally during his lifetime, including in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. His work has been included in solo and group exhibitions at venues such as Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, USA; Brooklyn Museum, NY, USA; MoMA PS1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, NY, USA; The Clocktower, New York, NY, USA; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA, USA; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY, USA; Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT, USA; Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, USA; Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, USA; Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA; Oklahoma City Museum of Art, OK, USA; Santa Barbara Museum of Art , CA, USA; Grand Rapids Art Museum, MI, USA; Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, AL, USA; Denver Art Museum, CO, USA; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO, USA; Akademie Der Kunste, Berlin, Germany; and Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark. In addition, Stamm exhibited his work at the legendary Downtown artist-founded venues 112 Greene Street (1975), Artists Space (1975, 1980) and Franklin Furnace (1977, 1980).
Stamm received awards in Painting from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1983) and the National Endowments for the Arts, NEA (1981–1982). Stamm’s work is included in the collections of Brooklyn Museum, NY, USA; Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, France; Hall Art Collection, Derneburg, Germany and Reading, Vermont; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA, USA; Phoenix Art Museum, AZ, USA; Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT, USA; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, USA; and Western Australia Art Gallery, Perth, Australia.