By Andrew Russeth
September 14 is shaping up to be a monumental day in the career of the renowned 92-year-old painter Ed Clark, who’s best known for exhilarating abstractions that he makes by pushing paint across his canvases with a broom. On that day, the traveling exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” which includes work by Clark, will open to the public at the Brooklyn Museum, and that evening, a few miles away, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Mnuchin Gallery will open “Ed Clark: A Survey,” with some 40 paintings and works on paper by the artist dating from 1962 to 2013.
“The show has been percolating for a number of years, and it’s finally come together,” Sukanya Rajaratnam, a partner in the gallery, said in a phone interview a few weeks ago. Rajaratnam, who spoke to ARTnews while taking a break from hanging the show, said that it will be the first career-spanning show for Clark in New York—the city that he’s called home for long stretches of his life—since 1980, when the Studio Museum in Harlem presented a retrospective of his work.
In recent years, Clark’s art has been seen in New York at two shows at Tilton Gallery, in 2014 and 2017, the first of which was organized by artist and longtime Clark fan David Hammons, who’s had three shows with Mnuchin. “David certainly was a catalyst here,” Rajaratnam said, noting that the notoriously reclusive artist is one of Clark’s biggest collectors. “David’s the one who started talking to me more in-depth about Ed, how he would go into the studio and buy up all these works.”
The Mnuchin exhibition, which includes loans from a number of private collections, comes as interest in Clark is quickly rising. His work is currently on view in a permanent collection show called “The Long Run” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and he was one of the stars of “Painting: Now and Forever, Part III,” the five-venue focus on the medium organized this summer by Matthew Marks Gallery and Greene Naftali in Chelsea. In 2014, curator Franklin Sirmans included Clark in the Prospect.3 triennial in New Orleans, where the artist was born in 1926.
Among Clark’s many achievements is showing what was termed the first shaped canvas in modern art by Lawrence Campbell in the pages of ARTnews in 1972, as Antwaun Sargent notes in his catalogue essay for the Mnuchin Gallery exhibition. That work was an untitled piece shown at the co-op Brata Gallery in New York in 1957.
In 2013, the Art Institute of Chicago presented an exhibitionof the artist’s work that included one of his early shaped-canvases abstractions, a scintillating untitled 1957 collaged piece that is in the museum’s collection. As it happens, the artist was raised in the Windy City, and went to school at the Art Institute after serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. After his time in Chicago, he attended the L’Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris and lived in the French capital for a stretch of the 1950s. Known for traveling widely, he returned to the country in the 1960s for a stretch, working at his compatriot Joan Mitchell’s home in Vétheuil.
With the opening approaching, Rajaratnam was working on various layouts for the show, trying to capture the full thrust of Clark’s career. “I’ve hung one room so far,” she said. “I’m very tough on this sort of things, but it’s beyond my expectations. It will be a good surprise for a lot of people. People in the know know who Ed Clark is, but a surprising number of people don’t know who he is.”