- Robert Mangold
- Three Squares Within a Triangle
- signed, titled and dated 1975-76 on the reverse
- oil crayon and acrylic on canvas
- 72 3/4 by 83 1/2 in. 184.8 by 212.1 cm.
Acquired by the present owner from the above in May 1976
Richard Schiff, Robert Mangold, London, 2000, p. 206, illustrated in color
Daniel Marzona and Uta Grosenick, eds., Minimal Art, Cologne, 2004, pp. 72-3, illustrated in color
The title of the work, Three Squares Within a Triangle, exactly describes every aspect of the painting. Mangold said plainly, "A work's self-referential qualities...[are why] I title works the way I do. In fact I don't title them, I describe them as simply as I can." (Mangold in Richard Schiff, ed., Mangold, London, 2000, p. 8) In this way, Mangold's work resisted formalist analysis and interpretation, as well as attempts by critics to neatly categorize his oeuvre.
Robert Mangold began his career in the mid-1960s, creating monochromatic constructions of oil on panel or Masonite that he called “Walls and Areas,” which were conceived as segments of architecture. In the late 1960s, Mangold transitioned to acrylic applied to the surface of the canvas with a paint roller, creating an almost translucent effect on the surface. The thin application of paint left the canvas exposed; without layers of built up brushwork on the surface, there would be nothing to hide behind. Mangold then applied black pencil directly on top of the acrylic, uniting together the practices of painting and drawing that established the foundation of his practice for the rest of his career. By committing to this medium, Mangold set up self-imposed restrictions that he must work within. Though he changes the shape of the canvas and his drawings, even deconstructing and separating his panels, he never deviates from this focal point. Maintaining this commitment and focus throughout his career has enabled deep exploration into the relationship of elements, geometry, architecture and abstraction.
Mangold traveled to Italy in the mid-1970s, during the same period in which the present work was painted. There, he encountered firsthand the majestic frescoes and panel paintings of Giotto and Piero della Francesca. Both artists made a firm break with the Byzantine painting of the past and helped usher in the early Renaissance era by introducing the practice of drawing from life and incorporating perspective, proportion and horizon into their compositions. Della Francesca wrote three treatises covering subjects such as arithmetic, algebra, geometry and perspective, which were later studied by mathematical scholars and artists alike, including Leonardo da Vinci. Mangold was particularly taken with the prominent role that geometry and ratio played in these Renaissance masters’ work and appropriated the tenets into his own work. In Three Squares Within a Triangle, the composition itself has a mathematical quality, recalling the Renaissance study of ratio and proportion. The way that the squares are contained within the triangle allude to the renderings of the Golden Triangle (an isosceles triangle in which the equal sides are in the Golden Ratio to the smaller side) or Leonardo da Vinci’s 'Vitruvian Man' (the ideal proportions for the human body). As art historian Robert Storr notes, "The Vitruvian man...his arms and legs designate a circle nested within a square, anthropomorphizing those basic shapes and making him one with Platonic order. Where you see a graphite X or O or 8 in Mangold's work, or a rectangle or triangle, you see a measure of a man. These devices are never simply abstract; they are always latently figurative." (Ibid., p. 91) Even the scale of the present work, at 72 inches high, relates directly to the body in its human scale. The pared down, simplified aesthetic of Mangold’s oeuvre belies his deep study and appreciation of Old Master paintings and the canon of Art History.
Formally, Mangold embodied a similar aesthetic as his Minimalist peers in the 1960s and 1970s, including Donald Judd, Richard Serra, Agnes Martin, Sol LeWitt and others. Mangold’s paintings, like those of his contemporaries, are stripped of personal flourishes, gestural strokes or worked surfaces, yet he never intends his work to appear mechanical or completely devoid of the artist’s hand. Mangold never wished to paint a picture, but rather to create an object that a viewer must encounter and confront. This revelation came to Mangold after he first saw a painting by Mark Rothko in the flesh. Upon viewing Rothko’s 1956 canvas Orange and Yellow at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo in 1958, Mangold remarked, “I realized what painting’s unique reality was: neither object nor window. It existed in the space between.” (Mangold in Exh. Cat., Aspen Art Museum, Robert Mangold: Paintings, 1990-2002, 2003, p. 21) Rothko debunked for Mangold the myth that a flat picture hanging on the wall must be looked into; after this revelation, Mangold began treating a painting as an object that a viewer is forced to confront, experience and address. Mangold expounded “I want the work to be directly in front of you. Something that is blocking your mental and physical path.” (Ibid, p. 19) In essence, Mangold embraced Clement Greenberg’s directive to “look at and not into pictures.” (Greenberg in Exh. Cat., Vermont, Bennington College, Barnett Newman: First Retrospective Exhibition, 1958)
Three Squares Within a Triangle is the ultimate summation of Mangold’s assertion of painting’s objectivity and a veritable study into geometric proportion, themes that pervade the entire course of the artist’s career. The present work represents the most significant painting by the artist to ever come to auction, the caliber of which is only matched by masterpieces seen in select museums and institutions around the world.