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Review: 53 years after her last L.A. show, Bridget Riley’s works go on display at Spruth Magers gallery

Review: 53 years after her last L.A. show, Bridget Riley’s works go on display at Spruth Magers gallery
Bridget Riley, “Divertimento,” 2016, acrylic on canvas, 53-3/4 x 78 inches, copyright Bridget Riley 2018, all rights reserved, (Courtesy of the artist and Spruth Magers)

At Spruth Magers gallery, “Bridget Riley: Painting Now” brings together 17 paintings the British artist made over the last 10 years and six from the 1960s, when she was just getting started as an artist and, incidentally, when she had her last solo show in Los Angeles, 53 years ago.

That’s a long time. But time shrinks — nearly disappearing — in the four smartly installed galleries, where Riley’s exceptionally efficient abstractions transform Southern California sunlight into an immersive experience of highly concentrated — and endlessly expansive — fascination.

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In the first of two downstairs spaces, a trio of large, horizontal oils on canvas from 2014 — in a lovely palette of light blue, lavender, peach, gold, turquoise and orange — is flanked by a small black-and-white stripe painting from 1961 and stunning square painting from 1967.

Bridget Riley, “Descending,” 1965, emulsion on board, 36 x 36 inches.
Bridget Riley, “Descending,” 1965, emulsion on board, 36 x 36 inches. (Courtesy of the artist and Spruth Magers)

The two paintings from the 1960s are so different from each other that Riley’s more recent threesome looks as if it’s the bridge that links them, its format and feel providing a logical transition from the horizontal bands of the former to the sensuality of the latter’s vertical bands of red, ivory, blue and green, the last two in a subtly shifting range of shades.

Chronological time gets tossed out the window. The manner in which historians make sense of an artist’s development — in terms of progression, improvement and advancement — is also dispensed with. Riley replaces such conventional narratives with experiences of intensification and depth. Her works suggest that great artists — and great art — sometimes spiral around unchanging concerns, never leaving them behind but delving more deeply into their mysterious depths.

Something similar transpires in the adjoining space, where four black-and-white works reveal what Riley has done with structure from 1965, when she painted “Descending,” to 2016, when she painted “Divertimento.” The same no-nonsense directness animates each abstraction, but the anxious hyperactivity of the former dissolves into the stimulating serenity of the latter.

Bridget Riley, “Memories of Horizons 3,” 2014, oil on canvas, 69 x 131 inches.
Bridget Riley, “Memories of Horizons 3,” 2014, oil on canvas, 69 x 131 inches. (Courtesy of the artist and Spruth Magers)

The cyclical intensification continues upstairs, where the earliest work in the exhibition, a Pointillist-style landscape, is installed among the most recent, a series of 2018 dot paintings collectively titled “Measure for Measure.”

The colors of Riley’s newest works, which are painted on canvas or directly on the wall, come from “Vapour 2,” a vertically striped painting from 2009 that hangs alongside them. Their structure harks back to two diamond-shaped compositions from the early ’60s, which round out the installation. Past and present commingle in Riley’s spare yet generous works.

As a whole, “Painting Now” proposes — and demonstrates — that art lives in the present, when breathing people engage it. Riley’s career is living proof of her own engagement with her surroundings, both external and internal: a deepening and maturing that strips away inessentials to come face to face with quietly dazzling moments of pure pleasure.

Spruth Magers, 5900 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 634-0600, through Jan. 26. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.spruethmagers.com

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