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  • Writer's pictureDavid Eichholtz

Siri Berg Reviewed in Brooklyn Rail by David Rhodes, The Kabbalah Paintings From The 1980s


September 30, 2023

ArtSeen Siri Berg: The Kabbalah Paintings from the 1980s By David Rhodes Click here to read the review







Installation View: Siri Berg: The Kabbalah Paintings from the 1980s, David Richard Gallery, New York, 2023. Artwork Copyright © Siri Berg Estate. Courtesy David Richard Gallery. Photo: Yao Zu Lu.




ON VIEW

David Richard Gallery

The Kabbalah Paintings From The 1980s

September 5–October 5, 2023

New York


Siri Berg (1921–2020) was born in Stockholm, Sweden. She immigrated from war-ravaged Europe to the United States at nineteen years old. Her intense interest in color was formalized by studying with Austrian born Zita Querido—a former student and colleague of Hans Hofmann—at the Riverdale Fine Arts Society in New York. Color was a life-long passion, enhanced by Berg’s strong interest in the works and ideas of Johannes Itten and Josef Albers: she in fact taught Color Theory at the Parsons School of Design for more than thirty years.



Installation View: Siri Berg: The Kabbalah Paintings from the 1980s, David Richard Gallery, New York, 2023. Artwork Copyright © Siri Berg Estate. Courtesy David Richard Gallery. Photo: Yao Zu Lu.





Not content with manufactured paint, Berg mixed her own pigments, rigorously testing color on paper as well as exploring the potential of differently prepared canvas surfaces. This formal precision was not an end in itself, as we see in Berg’s “Kabbalah Paintings.” Berg stated in October 1984, “I plan to continue my exploration of how abstract painting can illuminate the mystical content and value of the Kabbalah.” She articulates this project perfectly...


"I became interested in the figurative presentation of the Ten Sefirot from The Kabbalistic treatise by Moses ben Jacob Cordovero (1522–1570) and was impressed by the simplicity of its form. What struck me was how a simple form could visually represent so complex and intellectually profound a subject matter […] Using color, value and design to express the ascending and descending order from the lowest to the highest - thus equating in visual language the lowest with the darkest and the lightest or the “light” with the lightest […] I was especially attracted to the configuration because in all my work I have used form, not as a design element but as a vehicle for the search for unending intellectual and creative expression. This has permitted me to probe, to stretch, to develop, to evolve without distraction and constraint.”










Installation View: Siri Berg: The Kabbalah Paintings from the 1980s, David Richard Gallery, New York, 2023. Artwork Copyright © Siri Berg Estate. Courtesy David Richard Gallery. Photo: Yao Zu Lu.




The ascending and descending gradations from light to dark seen in all the paintings are for Berg a way to “resolve opposing aspects of life as they relate to abstract art.” Take for example Kabbalah (1985) a horizontal 35-by-95-inch painting. The violet and yellow steps shift by degrees horizontally, along diagonal bands radiating across the painting from including two tilted squares. Only directly between the squares are the bands of even width, in the other directions they cease and the beginning of a continuous plane is implied. This negates simple patterning. The paintings are surely meditative, but not pacifying, as the introduction of this formal complexity introduces an anomaly, a question. The two sides of the painting are harmonized, but do not absorb each other in a straightforward synthesis. Nor is the painting symmetrical, the lightest central area radiating differently laterally and at different rates, even though the appearance of shadow doubled left to right is a slow rhythm that is not disturbed.


Kabbalah (1983–84) is a square format painting. The surface is textured and the diagonally oriented partial square of the composition is very close in value and tone. It literally takes time to appear optically to the eye: after this revelation the return to concealment is like an awareness of gentle, steady breathing. Berg finds another way to render and accommodate opposites without destroying either. This exhibition offers an opportunity to experience Berg’s thorough, and finely calibrated metaphysics. She is an artist deserving of much more exposure.


Contributor

David Rhodes is a New York-based artist and writer, originally from Manchester, UK.

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