Virginia Fitzgerald talks about 'Rhapsody' by Jennifer Bartlett


This is another in a series of occasional blog posts by member artists, where a member artist talks about a work of art which has inspired them and influenced the way they work.

 “I was looking for a way to get work done without the burden of having to do anything good.  I wanted desperately to be good, of course, but whenever I sat down and tried to think of something that would be terrific to do, I couldn’t. "
— Jennifer Bartlett  [as quoted by Calvin Tomkins in Jennifer Bartlett, Abbeville Press, 1985] 

An idea I relate to in my studio practice.


Rhapsody, installation view of Jennifer Bartlett: Early Plate Work,
Addison Gallery of  American Art, Fall 2006


Jennifer Bartlett’s seminal piece, Rhapsody (1975-1976) consists of 987 of Bartlett’s one foot square steel plates, arranged in 142 rows of approximately 7 plates each, requiring a total of around 153 running feet of wall space to be exhibited. Bartlett wanted to create a large painting “that had everything in it”.  She set her rules and themes.  The piece would include four figurative images: a house, a tree, a mountain and the ocean.  She also chose 3 nonfigurative elements: a square, a circle and a triangle.

detail of Rhapsody, row 88-row 96


She envisioned the piece similar to a conversation where subjects would ebb and flow; different voices would be heard and woven together.  The painting would include segments dedicated to line, to color and to different methods painting: freehand, dots and ruled.  She also made a rule about editing the painting, within one day of finishing a plate she needed to decide if the plate would be included in the painting or erased.


Rhapsody installed in the Atrium at MoMA, April 2011. Consisting of 987 enameled steel plates, the work spans over 150 feet, while maintaining an intimate interaction with the viewer.

Bartlett began Rhapsody in the summer of 1975, while housesitting for friends in South Hampton. She had the uses of a cottage in exchange for caring for the house and the garden. Bartlett got so absorbed in her work that the garden dried up.   Bartlett returned to New York continued to work on Rhapsody during that fall and winter, often logging in 12-14 hour days of painting. In May 1975 Rhapsody was exhibited at the Paula Cooper Gallery.  The piece received a glowing review in the New York Times and a few days into the show the piece was sold, in its entirety, a collector new to the scene. The painting succeeded being all-inclusive, it reflected the chaotic art world of the 70’s, including styles from minimalism to pattern and decoration to conceptualism, and so much more.

My attraction to Rhapsody extends to most all of Bartlett’s work.  I am captivated by Bartlett’s systems, process, ideas and the final creation. But what I appreciate most about Bartlett’s work is her use of rules that she invented and followed until they became inconvenient; that her systems were a means to an end, a way of freeing Bartlett to just work.
- Virginia Fitzgerald

 And now a bit about Virginia...

Virginia Fitzgerald is a mixed media artist who works in sculpture, installation, fiber arts, painting, photography and collage. Her studio is in Natick, MA where she also lives with her two daughters in a house full of love and creativity. Find out more about Virginia and her work at virginiafitzgerald.com