Thursday, May 5, 2011

What You See Is What You See

Red-1966 by Thomas Downing (1966)

The Norton Simon Museum is currently featuring an exhibit entitled "Surface Truths: Abstract Painting in the Sixties." It's an interesting study of the post-painterly abstraction, specifically in the minimalistic or color field modes. I've never been a fan of this movement. Certainly, there are a few works that capture my interest and I certainly have respect for works within this movements, but it just doesn't "speak to me."

Well, it still isn't my thing, but I feel that my ability to appreciate it has been improved by this show. The various works on display come from the Norton's vault. When the current museum took over the old Pasadena Art Museum, they inherited as part of the deal a bunch of contemporary art. Given Simon's dislike of contemporary art, that's a bit ironic.

The Pasadena Art Museum was ambitious in its acquisitions. This eventually led to the financial woes which would turn it into the Norton Simon, but it also brought in some of the finest post-painterly art of the era.

Damascus Gate I by Frank Stella, 1969

Viewing these works in context definitely enhanced appreciation. On one wall, you have this colossal Stella masterpiece of minimalism. One a nearby wall, you have this richly textured Color Field piece by Frankenthaler. You can compare the hard edge compositions with the stain work compositions. You can compare geometric structuring with organic compositions. Yet, as different as these works are in appearance, they are all very open in compositional technique. There is no obscurity or deceit here. The clarity of expression is very engaging.

Adriatic by Helen Frankenthaler (1968)

Adriatic by Helen Frankenthaler is my favorite of the show. It sealed the deal for my in my appreciation for this exhibit. When critics discuss the energy and vitality of Abstract Expressionism, the term "Dionysian" occasionally pops up. It generally means sensuous, passionate, and chaotic. For these post-painterly works, it is appropriate to use the term "Apollonian" for they are creations of reason, clarity, and order.

Frankenthaler's work is created using the soak stain technique, where the paint is applied to raw canvas. This creates a watercolor-like effect in which the paint soaks and spreads into the texture. This creates engaging halo effects and color gradations. Yet, Frankenthaler utilizes this "chaotic" effect with clarity and structure. Looking at the Downing or Stella pieces above, it's easy to see how they are "Apollonian" works. But when you see Adriatic in person and observe the deliberate "stain" placements, you can see how it too is "Apollonian."

I unexpectedly really enjoyed this show. I highly recommend checking it out.

Here's a link to the Norton Simon Museum's website.

Here's a link to Thomas Downing's Wikipedia page.

Here's a link to Frank Stella's Wikipedia page

And here's a link to Helen Frankenthaler's Wikipedia page.


No comments:

Post a Comment