Landscape and lights influence art exhibits

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 96 views 

University of Arkansas Fine Arts Center
Tenses of Landscape
Oct. 1 – Nov. 4, 2012

Tenses of Landscape is a group exhibition curated by Sam King and Christopher Lowrance. The title of the show is taken from a 1996 essay by the painter Rackstraw Downes. Sam King chose to use this reference as the title because “it suggested a continuity of linear time (of a before, during, and after).”

This idea of linear time and space serves as a thread that ties each piece together both visually and contextually. The viewer experiences this “tense” as familiar content associated with idea of the “ever changing landscape” while fluctuating through a chain of new and traditional methods of art making.

One of the most dominating pieces in the exhibit is “Cave and Trees” by Claire Sherman, a massive scale painting heavy with dense, lush surfaces and thinly applied veils of transparent washes. The viewer is confronted with the experience of emerging through the portal of a dark damp enclosed cave. Medium and subject build upon each other as large solid masses of dark umbers create cold heavy tactile interior cave walls. The forest floor is revealed not by the literal rendering of undergrowth and debris, but instead implied forms are translated through loosely applied marks and dashes of color. The large-scale physicality of the work encompasses the viewer within the cave and opens up to reveal the intense lime greens and yellows found in the blindingly lit exterior world.

Accompanying “Cave and Trees” is a smaller piece by Kimberly Trowbridge entitled “Dystopia.” This pairing at first sight might seem at odds with each other, but formally it contains all the same homogeneous color and compositional structure but filtered and abstracted through the lens of a cubist. The similarities are uncanny both in color and composition.

It’s this visual flow of this exhibition that gives the viewer alternating moments of grandiose collisions with smaller more intimate moments of spaces in time.

Moving through the gallery its impossible not to be drawn into “Scrap Engines” by Michael Kareken. A junkyard full of declining rusted motor parts so beautifully rendered in detail that from a distance, it’s almost photographic in its realism.

The viewer becomes immersed in its commanding presence and painterly surface. To the right of Scrap Engines hangs a much smaller untitled abstraction by Emily Gerhard. Although the subject and content are totally different the choice of palette is identical. Patches of warm grays and pinks build upon the landscape, forming tracer like blocks of color that seem to echo, hover, and dissolve into the horizon.

The majority of the work in this show is devoid of any figures, but never lacking in human presence or human activity. In “Safe Keeping” a glistening mirror-like factory sits among snow covered mountains enclosed within the glacial tundra. Ventilation air ducts stretch out like mechanical arms spilling out piles of small candy like beads of color. Peering inside this fortress of solitude we see what appears to be a grainy, faded postcard like image of a much more picturesque landscape out of another time and place. The memory of nature has been enclosed, encapsulated, and contained.

Mark Lewis’s “Peoria Avenue” presents us with an immense cityscape accompanied by pedestrians, cars whizzing by, and all the hustle and bustle found in a busy intersection of any town U.S.A. Intricately cut and collaged pieces of paper form cavernous mosaic like patterns on the surface that becomes something more akin to low relief. Power lines lead us down the grey city street and converge into infinity. Despite its ornate and detailed surface it never loses the energy contained in both the drawing and in the subject matter. Life and landscape remain in a constant state of movement.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Light: The Luminist Tradition in American
Oct.13 – Jan. 28

Light: The Luminist Tradition in American Art is a rare and invaluable visual phenomenon to behold. Of the many works featured in this exhibit two pieces recently acquired by Crystal Bridges have set the bar at a new level: legendary painter Mark Rothko’s “No. 210/No. 211” and “Sloan (Red) 1968” an installation by artist James Turrel. Two artists working in two totally different mediums but joined together through a common quest to present the sensation of light and color in its purest form.

The show is housed in what was once the Wonderworld exhibit. Visitors are welcomed first by Rothko’s “No. 210/No.211,” a large-scale painting which sets the tone for the exhibit.

It should also be noted that this piece has only been exhibited twice in the past 50 years. At first glance the viewer encounters a format of three large red/orange squares that float against a field of black.

This compositional arrangement was typical for Rothko and served as his playground for exploring infinite color combinations to create heightened levels of perceptual awareness. What appears to be “a color” is actually made up of many layers of colors that interact together to create optical impressions. Much like sitting in a dark room and letting your eyes slowly adjust to the changing conditions, the more time spent in front of a Rothko the more these subtleties of color become apparent. Viewing a Rothko is a spiritual one, as the only information that is given in his work is that of the pure joy of color sensation.

The theme of this exhibit covers a huge time span from the 1920’s to the present day. One particular movement that occurred during this time span was the Light and Space movement that began in the 1960’s. Characterized by a focus on light, volume, scale, and the use of industrial materials such as glass, neon, fluorescent lights, and other casting materials. The idea was to immerse the viewer by use of installations creating conditions to encounter a perceptual phenomenon. The “art” was no longer an object but could be something less tangible like pure color.

Of this early group of artists one of the most influential members then and now is James Turrel. Visitors to Crystal Bridges may be familiar with one of the other permanent installations by this world-renowned artist (Sky Space) but now have the chance to experience a new addition to the collection “Sloan (Red) 1968.”

Walking through the exhibit one only needs to follow the red glow emanating from a small room in the rear of the space. Entering a Turrel is similar to the experience of entering a place of mediation, an overwhelming sense of silence abounds. The viewer in captivated by what appears to be an intensely lit red portal in the far left hand corner of the space. The experience of a Turrel is the joy of looking, but not at any “thing” in particular, just “looking.” Turrel has stated “the experience is similar to sitting around a campfire at night in silent contemplation.” What first appeared as the flooding in of light from a portal is nothing more than very specific waves of light projected onto a flat surface.

It’s also no coincidence that Turrel chose this particular piece to be an addition to the exhibit. Speaking with one of the curators, she informed me that Turrel was “well aware that Crystal Bridges had recently acquired the orange and black Rothko, he felt Sloan (Red) 1968 would be an ideal counterpart to the show.”

Those familiar with viewing a Turrel light installation in person might have a slightly anticlimactic impression compared to the impact felt by some of his other larger room installations.

But as with any Turrel piece the “awe” factor is felt over time spent immersed in the space, the feeling of being in a constant state of awareness. “Sloan (Red) 1968” achieves this and serves as the perfect addition to an already incredible collection of American Art.