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Prisons in ContextEnlarge image

Prisons in Context, 1981

Peter Halley
États-Unis, 1953
acrylic, Day-Glo acrylic and Roll-A-Tex on canvas
137.2 x 645 cm installed
Purchased 2012
National Gallery of Canada (no. 45591.1-3)
Photo © NGC

Halley made this work at a time when New Image painting - characterized by large, gestural and often quickly executed canvases - dominated New York galleries and the art market. In addition to offering an antidote to such works, Halley's simple forms engaged critically with the history of twentieth-century geometric abstraction. His "prison, cell and conduit" motifs, seen here, serve as "icons that reflect the increasing geometrization of social space in the world in which we live." While he calls the stuccoed form a "prison," the icon might also represent the familiar gridded streets, high-rises and office complexes that determine our daily movements. In the panel at far right, the subterranean "conduits" allude to the transmission of electronic information, connecting otherwise isolated spaces and those within.

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