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Peter Halley, Two Cells with Conduit and Underground Chamber, 1983 (detail) | Acrylic, fluorescent acrylic, and Roll-a-tex on unprimed canvas | Two attached panels | Collection B.Z. and Michael Schwartz, New York © Photo: Robert Glowacki
Peter Halley

Conduits. Paintings from the 1980s

Inspired by the painting Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (1987) held in the Mudam Collection, this monographic survey revisits the first decade of Peter Halley’s career. Set within the context of a prolific period of painting and critical writing, the exhibition will trace the development of Halley’s singular vocabulary, examining the ideological foundations of the distinct pictorial language for which the artist is known. Assembling over thirty paintings from public and private collections, it will present a selection of iconic works alongside previously unseen drawings, sketches and notes.

After studying at Yale and in New Orleans in the late 1970s Halley returned to New York in 1980, taking up residence in the East Village of Manhattan. In the same year he painted his first images of confinement, re-deploying the language of geometric abstraction in response to physical and bureaucratic environments. Radically re-thinking the symbolic terrain of modernism, Halley deconstructed the language of abstraction and the square. These were re-imagined not as utopian sources of liberation, but as dystopian symbols of the regulation of physical and social space and the impact of technology on contemporary life.

Working in the era of the advent of Internet that saw the mass adoption of personal computers, he developed a pictorial system of geometric icons that he described as ‘prisons’, ‘cells’ and ‘conduits’ to explore themes of enclosure, isolation and connection. Adopting non-traditional materials such as Roll-A-Tex – a paint additive that provides a readymade texture – and Day-Glo fluorescent colours, he evoked a pervasive mechanisation of the human touch with the former and referenced the presence of technology in the ersatz postmodern environment with the latter. Reflecting on this seminal period in his essay, ‘Geometry and the Social’ (1990) Halley wrote:

I wanted to draw attention to this geometricised, rationalised, quantified world. I saw it as a world characterised by efficiency, by regimentation of movement, bureaucracies, whether in the corporation, government, or university… geometry is also the language of [the] managerial-professional class. It is the language of the corporation and flow charts; it is the language of urban planning and of communications.

Peter Halley (b. 1953, New York) has held major exhibitions at Dallas Contemporary (2021); Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt (2016); Musée d’Art Moderne Saint-Etienne Métropole (2014); Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, Japan and Museum Folkwang, Essen (1998); Museum of Modern Art, New York (1997); Dallas Museum of Art (1995); Des Moines Art Center (1992); CAPC – Musée d’Art Contemporain de Bordeaux, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1991); Museum Haus Esters, Krefeld, and Institute of Contemporary Art, London (1989). His work is held in numerous public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Tate, London and Centre Pompidou, Paris. He lives and works in New York.


Mudam Galleries Level 1
  • Michelle Cotton, assisted by Sarah Beaumont

With the support of our exhibition partners:
  • Banque Degroof Petercam Luxembourg

The exhibition at Mudam is realised in close cooperation with the artist and includes works from the collections of CAPC – Musée d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Städel Museum, Frankfurt; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and Mudam Collection. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated exhibition catalogue including an extensive interview with the artist, a curator’s essay and new texts by Paul Pieroni and Tim Griffin.