“Shape” as an issue for painting was the demon spawn of the critical program initiated by Greenberg and elaborated by Michael Fried. Most notoriously, Frank Stella’s manipulation of the shape of the physical support in his work of the ’60s was seen as an inevitable evolutionary step in the reduction of painting to its own medium-specific essence, and perhaps also as a way out of the cul-de-sac of graphic decorativism. In Stella’s case this reasoning eventually resulted in weird objects that were difficult to accept as either radical or profound, but younger artists of a non-Greenbergian bent surprisingly found rich potential in this train of thought. In the late ’60s Mangold, Murray’s contemporary in age but forerunner on the curve of artistic self-realization, began exploring the reciprocity, implied by Stella’s earlier forays, between a shaped support and the marks on its surface. Throughout the ’70s and beyond, Mel Bochner, Dorothea Rockburne, and Richard Tuttle worked with shape in their pictorial investigations of thought’s relationship to material, and Ron Gorchov made truculent and repetitive canvases with round corners and a surface curved in two directions like a saddle. Always present in the minds of Murray’s generation of painters was the example of Ralph Humphrey, a currently underestimated figure who began a series of ethereal surfboard-shaped paintings in 1970 and who continued to develop his extremely specific supporting structures until his death twenty years later.
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