Since the dawn of the earliest visual cultures, line has been one of the most fundamental components of image-making. From primitive stone carvings to ancient forms of written language, it was through line that humans forged systems of representation and communication.
In the Renaissance, the development of linear perspective revolutionised the picture plane. As the world and our perception of it expanded, line became a means of visualising new domains: of connecting points in space, or carving new spaces entirely.
Throughout the 20th century, its directional power razed old systems to the ground. For the Expressionists, it was a means of channelling carnal sensation; for the Surrealists, it became a tool for accessing the subconscious. Through Constructivism and Minimalism, line returned art to a new ground zero; elsewhere, its free improvisations dissolved the boundaries between figuration and abstraction. Today, in an age of virtual reality, the properties of line have never been more vital to art.
From 28 September to 24 November, Christie’s Mayfair gallery presents About the Line, a private selling exhibition that investigates uses of the line in drawings, paintings and sculptures from 1900 to the present, featuring works by Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Agnes Martin, Willem de Kooning, Bridget Riley, Christopher Wool, Maria Lassnig, Julie Mehretu, Günther Uecker, Henri Matisse, and many others.
The exhibition opens with a look at Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian. Through Cubism, Picasso harnessed line as a tool for thinking about the way an object occupies space. Mondrian’s so-called ‘Neo-Plastic’ approach to painting reduced nature to a series of horizontal and vertical lines, powered by a belief that these structures articulated reality in its purest form. His work had a profound influence on the American sculptor Alexander Calder, whose visit to the Dutch artist’s studio inspired his groundbreaking kinetic mobiles. Through Calder, line became movement: the rhythms of nature were re-animated.
As the exhibition unfolds, further lineages emerge. Minimalist and Constructivist works by Agnes Martin, Jo Baer and Robert Mangold are juxtaposed with those of British practitioners including Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson. An outstanding selection of works by Bridget Riley looks at the interaction of colour and line in her revolutionary Op Art practice.
Both Lucio Fontana and Günther Uecker use line as a means of extending the space occupied by the canvas: one through incisive slashes, the other through protruding nails. For Christopher Wool, line exists to be erased and overwritten; for Julie Mehretu it is a cartographic tool, charting the impossible speed at which the future becomes the present. ‘That’s what I’m interested in: the space in between,’ Mehretu explains. ‘The moment of imagining what is possible and yet not knowing what that is.’
About the Line is on view at Christie’s Mayfair until 24 November. For more information, visit http://staging.christies.com/privatesales