May 17 – Jul 6, 2019

Barbara Takenaga



            In her first solo exhibition, Robischon Gallery is pleased to present New York artist Barbara Takenaga’s “Manifold,” an expansive offering of small and large-scale paintings on linen and panel. With her exquisitely lavish painted details, the artist’s overall palette of deep blacks and a rich range of blues   serve as the foundation for her multi-layered, dynamic animated mark.  Clusters of concentric circles, tiny pearlescent geysers, or luminous structures of nets and fish-scale forms, each unfold and redirect the eye to prompt a sense of wonder. Artist and artcritical writer, Mary Jones observes, “Takenaga plays through octaves of weight. Tiny brushstrokes, hairlines, and rendered dots of white are made with the lightest touch, skittering across a heavy lava flow of poured and puddled acrylic. She knows her chemistry. Untold hours of attention, focus and devotion to her craft are haptically present, the paintings suggest strenuous concentration and, like meditation, allow the viewer to escape the pressures of time and distraction. Takenaga has practiced and honed these qualities through decades, and now, she thoroughly owns them.”

During the mid-1970s, Barbara Takenaga was a student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and was trained as a graphic artist – a background which continues to influence both her process and the techniques she utilizes today. In addition to graphic arts, the artist was responsive to the decorative arts early in her career and was trained at a time in Colorado when the Criss-Cross artists’ collective had a strong voice. Criss-Cross was an artists' co-operative which evolved from the 1960s artists' Drop City community, located in southern Colorado, which focused on issues surrounding "pattern and structure."   Colorado’s community, found itself in dialogue with the 1970s Pattern and Decoration Movement (P&D), which was keenly aligned with many feminist artists of the time. Regarding P&D, Lilly Wei, independent curator, journalist and art critic, states, “They found in it a persuasive and powerful refutation and rebuke of Minimalist ideologies that were based on white male privilege. “P&D,” Takenaga said, “was the great flag of feminism,” and its concepts dovetailed with many of her own about art and the need to include non-Western cultures into the broader conversation, in particular their ornamental language. P&D helped to make women aware that what they had historically crafted/created, with little acknowledgment or remuneration, was of tremendous value. Quilts, textiles, wallpaper, needlepoint, painted plates and clothing are as integral to the design of life as architecture, as vital a cultural contribution as painting and sculpture.”      

For Takenaga, specifically, such inspiration was and continues to be wide-ranging. Traditional Japanese folding screens, paintings and prints, along with designs of Samurai helmets, ignite her imagination. Textiles, East Indian miniatures and tantric mandalas, as well as the work of modern and contemporary artists Eva Hesse, Sol Lewitt and Yayoi Kusama, also spark interest for Takenaga along with a highly personal component within her use of pattern. Takenaga states, “References to my grandmother were coded into mountain shapes (she was born near Mt. Fuji), images of a crow and a key were private stand-ins for my mother’s maiden name Kuroki, along with silhouettes of the structured robes of warlords, etc., I’ve employed lots of hiding and coding.  The whole series of dot mandalas from 2001-2009 were about my mother, sliding away into space.”

In Barbara Takenaga’s current exhibition of new and recent work, the largest of the artworks is a captivating five-part panel painting, Manifold 5, from which the exhibition is also titled. This complex, intricate work measures nearly six by nineteen feet and offers the viewer an uncommon experience within the dialogue of contemporary abstraction as it is unapologetically beautiful while alluding to a relentless state of change.  Writer Lilly Wei observes, “Takenaga moves with assurance between the intimate and the environmental, having understood quite some time ago that P&D can also be monumental, immersive.  Manifold 5 is black and silver, dark and light with a bluish aura, the grisaille effect pushing the painting more toward the abstract realm. But here, too, there are glimmers of color throughout.  The composition is a curved shape in black framed by a ground with the sheen of the costliest pearls.  Is it a stylized landscape, the dark area a river wending through it?  Or is it one shape superimposed over the other?  What is positive and what is negative?  What is advancing and what is receding?” Wei further writes, “These are questions that might apply to all of the artist’s works which keep them dynamic – in a state that is more encompassing, more consistent with reality, how we perceive it, and how it is, then is not. Manifold 5’s mood is elegiac, more contemplative than is customary in the artist’s oeuvre, as if haunted, full of ghosts, sublimated meditations on loss...”

Intuitively directed by repetition and a responsiveness to the inevitability of transitions, Barbara Takenaga’s blend of worlds both ancient and contemporary, micro and macro, earthbound and cosmological – are guided by an impulse to address the universal.  With each painting, Takenaga invites investigation and rewards the fully engaged viewer with an encompassing experience of movement, contemplative line and iridescent, dazzling form.        


Barbara Takenaga obtained both her BFA and MFA from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Takenaga’s most recent awards include the FOR-SITE Foundation’s Wauson Fellowship and the Eric Isenburger Annual Art Award from the National Academy Museum. Her work has been exhibited at institutions including the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Omaha; MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA; Brattleboro Art Museum, VT; Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, CO; National Academy Museum, New York, NY; Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA; Asian Arts Initiative, Philadelphia, PA; American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, NY; and the International Print Center, New York, among others. Takenaga’s most recent professional engagements include the first in-depth survey of the artist’s work mounted by the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA and a large scale commissioned public project in the Neuberger Museum of Art SPACE / 42, New York, NY. She is represented in the permanent collections of The Auckland Art Museum, Chapel Hill, NC; Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock; CU Art Museum, University of Colorado, Boulder; The Henry Art Gallery, Seattle; Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA; The San Jose Art Museum, CA; the Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, NE; Museum of Nebraska Art, Kearney, NE; Federal Reserve Board, Washington, DC; Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA; The deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Lincoln, MA; and Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation, Los Angeles, CA, among others.