Recent Articles
Jim Hodges describes his new Artspace edition
Meet the Artist
Jim Hodges describes his new Phaidon/ Artspace edition and the processes by which his work unfolds
Helen Thompson – The Art For Home Interview
Living With Art
Helen Thompson – The Art For Home Interview
Serge Hamad on his photography
Meet the Artist
Serge Hamad - 'I always felt that I could speak out in a deeper sense when using photography'
What's in Kimberley's Cart?
Expert Eye
"What I'd Buy This September '21": Artspace's Kimberly Reinagel Shares the Artworks in Her Cart
James Crump – The Art for Home Interview
On the Wall
James Crump – The Art for Home Interview
John Folchi talks about his art
Meet the Artist
John Folchi – 'Among my earliest childhood memories is one of an aesthetic response to the beauty of clouds’
Sandra Platas Hernández on life and art
Meet the Artist
Sandra Platas Hernández - 'I find the beauty in every little thing that surrounds me'
Putnam & Putnam Unveil Limited Edition Floral Prints
On the Wall
Putnam & Putnam Unveil Limited Edition Floral Prints
S.K.Sahni on his art
Meet the Artist
S.K.Sahni – 'An artist creates work first for himself but sharing it with others to awaken their inner self is equally important'
Drew Doggett on his art and photography
Meet the Artist
Drew Doggett – 'I select subjects that are extraordinary to share the world’s beauty'
Orit Fuchs on her art
Meet the Artist
Orit Fuchs – ‘I come to the studio six days a week - and start dreaming!'
Alberto González Vivo talks about his art
Meet the Artist
Alberto González Vivo – 'I think if the work has the desired effect on me, it will have that effect on others'
5 things to look out for in the Celeste Dupuy-Spencer edition
Close Look
5 things to look out for in the Celeste Dupuy-Spencer edition
Lindsay August-Salazar on her inspirations, influences and ideals
Meet the Artist
Lindsay August-Salazar – “Art has the capacity to expand my deeper drive and interest in human expression'
Colleen Blackard - 'I want to build worlds to share'
Artist to Watch
Colleen Blackard - 'From an early age I found it easier to communicate with gestures and pictures than with words'

Art 101

How the Grid Conquered Contemporary Art

By

How the Grid Conquered Contemporary Art
Chuck Close painting

The grid is a visual structure that lies at the heart of contemporary art. As a graphic component in painting, it came to prominence in the early 20th century in the abstractions of the Russian painter Kazimir Malevich and the Dutch-born Piet Mondrian, who was widely considered the "most modern" artist of his time. In 1912, Mondrian began to create his "compositions," paintings constituted by grids of horizontal and vertical black lines in three primary colors. "These basic forms of beauty," he wrote, "supplemented if necessary by other direct lines or curves, can become a work of art, as strong as it is true." 

The art historian Rosalind Krauss has pointed to the emergence of the grid as a critical step in the evolution of modern art. In her canonical 1979 essay "Grids," she wrote: “In the early part of this century, there began to appear, first in France and then in Russia and in Holland, a structure that has remained emblematic of the modernist ambition within the visual arts ever since. Surfacing in pre-War cubist painting and subsequently becoming ever more stringent and manifest, the grid announces, among other things, modern art's will to silence, its hostility to literature, to narrative, to discourse."

The use of the grid evolved over the course of the century. During the late 1950s, artist Agnes Martin began to draw lines that formed organizational sequences constructed on a rational system; it defined her final break from representational painting. At the same time, the grids served as a stand-in for the most basic form of drawing—leaving marks on a surface—and the meditative state of mind the artist sought in the solitude of her New Mexico home. These paintings foreshadowed Minimalism, and were a significant influence on many artists.

One such artist in particular was Sol LeWitt, who adopted the grid as the underlying element of his artworks, which bridged Minimalism and conceptual art. In 1960s, LeWitt started to draw directly on walls, using the grid as a simplified format that excluded representational images. The wall drawings evolved into a set of precise and mathematical instructions that the artist would have a third party carry out, so that his own hand did not touch the artwork. LeWitt's sculptures, meanwhile, drew upon the grid to form spare geometric abstractions that stand in three dimensions—like an Agnes Martin painting that leapt off the canvas.

Far from being a static element, the grid mutated in the hands of different artists to assume a wide array of forms. Gerhard Richter made lively abstractions of colored boxes; Carl André lay down squares of metal tiles in geometric patterns on the floor; Chuck Close used the grid as a structure to expand photographs into large paintings. Alan Shields, Sean Scully, Mary Heilmann, Donald Judd, Bernd & Hilla Becher, and Frank Stella are just a few of the other seminal artists from the period who made the grid their own.

All over the world, the next generations of artists have continued to draw on its form. Sarah Morris’s large paintings take the shape of a flat map of streets usually associated with grid structures. In her paintings, the rigid quadrangular spaces are twisted into simple yet strong patterns that recall the urban landscape. Susan Hefuna takes the grid as the determining element from where to see and from where to be seen, echoing the shape of a mashrabiya, the carved wooden window of traditional Arabic architecture. In Robin Rhode's photographs, grids translate into action, creating a sense of motion—he calls them “moving images” —that recalls Eadweard Muybridge's serial photographs from the previous century. Guillermo Kuitca, meanwhile, draws and paints architectural spaces such as theaters, prisons, or hospitals that often follow ordered systems based on grids.

Just look around: in modern life, the grid is everywhere. The streets of Manhattan form the most famous urban grid in the world—we type in grid-shaped keyboard keys, we digest our digital media through tiny pixellated grids, and play the lottery filling numbers in small grids. The grid is the net that connects art with the increasingly ordered qualities of day-to-day life. As Krauss wrote, “logically speaking, the grid extends, in all directions, to infinity”.

DISCOVER

a treasure trove of fine art from the world's most renowned artists, galleries, museums and cultural institutions. We offer exclusive works you can't find anywhere else.

LEARN

through exclusive content featuring art news, collecting guides, and interviews with artists, dealers, collectors, curators and influencers.

BUY

authentic artworks from across the globe. Collecting with us means you're helping to sustain creative culture and supporting organizations that are making the world a better place.

CONNECT

with our art advisors for buying advice or to help you find the art that's perfect for you. We have the resources to find works that suit your needs.

INSIDER ACCESS TO THE WORLD'S BEST ART

Artspace offers you authentic, exclusive works from world-renowned artists, galleries, museums and cultural institutions. Collecting with us helps support creative culture while bringing you art news, interviews and access to global art resources.

  • COLLECT FROM 300+ GALLERIES & MUSEUMS