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  • April 07, 2011

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A rendering of the forthcoming installation of paintings by Chris Martin, each 26 feet high, which will be on view in the Corcoran's Atrium.

This summer, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design will present Chris Martin: Painting Big, Martin’s first one-artist museum exhibition and the first exhibition of his work in Washington, D.C. Spanning three spaces in the Gallery, the exhibition includes large-scale paintings commissioned for the Corcoran’s Atrium, a focused selection of work from the past nine years, and in the Corcoran’s Rotunda, a dense assemblage of small paintings from the last 25 years. Chris Martin: Painting Big is the second exhibition in the Gallery’s NOW at the Corcoran series, which is dedicated to showcasing the work of emerging and mid-career artists. It is curated by Sarah Newman, curator of contemporary art at the Corcoran.

Painting Big explores Martin’s complex insertion of everyday life into art and art into everyday life. Although abstract, Martin’s paintings are a direct response to the physical world around him. His works are tactile and stitched-together, incorporating found objects and collage into their abstract geometries and rhythmic patterns. They relate to the physical world as much as to his own internal landscape of memories and experiences, which draw from music, literature, and the human relationship to nature. In many, Martin integrates objects from his immediate environment, including kitchen utensils, records, photographs, and Persian carpets, into their colorful surfaces.

According to Sarah Newman, “Martin’s paintings are often quite literally big, in the sense that many of his canvases are towering fields of color and pattern, yet they are also big in concept and in spirit, incorporating the gamut of experience, from personal memories to James Brown to the sublime. Although his paintings are lush and playful on the surface, they are embedded with traces of private stories and layers of history.”

Painting Big is structured in three parts: a new body of work comprised of three site-specific, monumental abstract paintings in the Corcoran central Atrium, a dense Salon-stack assemblage of small paintings in the Rotunda, and a focused selection of work in the NOW Gallery. Taken together, the work proposes a complex musing on the relationship between public and private experience, and the way in which these ideas find form in paint.

In the Atrium, three paintings, each 26 feet high, will be suspended from the second floor to the ground, creating a vibrant “room” of color and pattern in the public space of the Gallery. The Atrium installation dramatizes the play between art and life, serving as a monumental painted environment for the activities of Corcoran visitors.

Originally from Washington, D.C., Martin grew up visiting the Corcoran. His memories of seeing ambitious sculptural installations, including those by Tony Smith and Ronald Bladen in the Corcoran’s Atrium, have inspired his ideas for this exhibition, and his paintings directly engage the architecture and history of the museum.

In the Corcoran’s Rotunda, a salon-stack of small paintings and collages will create an intimate, almost domestic environment in the heart of the Gallery. The works demonstrate the literal incorporation of found objects into Martin’s painted surface, and they also give a sense of the range of the artist’s practice and history.

“My painting practice is very diverse both in image and use of materials,” says Martin of the exhibition. “This is an opportunity to bring it all together and see what it is.”

The large-scale paintings in the Corcoran’s NOW Gallery focus on Martin’s playing with the language of abstraction and the ways in which the outside world becomes incorporated into paint. Focused on the subject of landscape, the works refer to Martin’s time spent in India along the Ganges River and in upstate New York in the Catskill Mountains.

“Martin’s works are musings on the ways in which lived experience becomes refracted through perception and incorporated into paint. They are also ultimately about the ways in which art shapes our knowledge of place,” said Newman.

Martin’s interest in bringing painting into the realm of lived experience and his own history of performance are essential elements of his work. In the 1970s and 1980s, he created collaborative paintings during Happenings with other artists and musicians. He has placed works in bus stops, on the sides of buildings, and in nightclubs, fabricating them with phosphorescent paint to respond to the lighting and conditions of the location. He has taken largescale paintings for “walks” around the block, involving his neighbors and local shopkeepers in creating the meaning and experience of his work. In
more traditional gallery spaces, Martin has blurred the distinction between the art object and everyday life, placing paintings on floors, ceilings, and displayed among household objects.

Growing up in Washington, Martin recalls visiting the Corcoran as a teenager, finding inspiration in masterworks such as George Inness’ Harvest Moon, as well as the avant-garde, large-scale sculptural installations that inspired his own work in the Corcoran’s Atrium. Martin’s exhibition at the Corcoran represents a coming home for the artist and celebrates the history as well as the future of both the artist and the Corcoran. For more, please visit

Chris Martin: Painting Big is made possible through the support of the Women’s Committee of the Corcoran and Steven M. Sumberg.

Chris Martin was born in Washington D.C. in 1954. From 1972–75 he attended Yale University, and in 1992 attained a BFA, Certificate of Art Therapy from the School of Visual Arts, New York. Martin has lived and worked in New York City since 1976 and has been exhibiting actively in the United States since the early 1980s. Recent projects include a oneartist exhibition of paintings at the Jaffe-Friede Gallery at Dartmouth University, 2011; Joe Bradley & Chris Martin at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York, 2010; and an exhibition of large-scale paintings and drawings at KOW Berlin, Germany, 2009. Martin’s works have also been included in many group exhibitions including Abstract America at the Saatchi Gallery, London, 2009; Shape Shifters at the University of North Carolina, Pembroke, NC, 2008; The Painted World at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, NY, 2005; and Current Undercurrents: Working in Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY, 1997. Martin has been the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, 2002, and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Award, 1999.

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