When Jennifer Bartlett first showed Rhapsody in 1976, it was a revelation. Visitors responded enthusiastically to Bartlett’s painting which, in the artist’s words, “has everything in it.” The monumental work consists of 987 small panels that invite close looking. From left to right, there are seven thematic sections: Introduction, Mountain, Line, House, Tree, Shape, and Ocean. Bartlett described these parts as “drifting” from one to another; the work was “supposed to be like a conversation... in which people digress from one thing and maybe come back to the subject, then do the same with the next thing.”
Jennifer Bartlett died in 2022 at the age of 81. Like Rhapsody, her life’s work was “like a conversation,” engaging subjects ranging from topographical maps of the world to her immediate surroundings. Throughout her career, the artist added color and figures to the orderly grid formations prominent in the art of the 1960s—infusing them with fluidity, freedom, and emotion. Repetition—both as a concept and an action—became essential to Bartlett’s practice early on. She was intrigued by the ability of a mathematical series to build upon itself infinitely, and emulated this continuous growth by combining dozens, or hundreds, of plates—baked in enamel, silkscreened, and then painted—in large-scale installations.
Image: Detail from Rhapsody, Jennifer Bartlett, 1975–76 / courtesy of MoMA