EVERYTHING OP IS NEW AGAIN: The Persistence and Recrudescence of Optical
David Richard Gallery
2015 October 10
“Re-Op: ‘The Responsive Eye’ Fifty Years After”, currently on view at David Richard Gallery is the third in a series of presentations co-curated by Peter Frank, critic, curator and historian and David Eichholtz, gallerist, curator and historian that critically examines and reconsiders “The Responsive Eye”, the seminal exhibition organized by William C. Seitz at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1965. This particular installation explores contemporary artworks by artists who were included in the exhibit at MoMA as well as their contemporaries and later generations of artists. All of them share an interest in exploring optical art and visual perception.
Following is the catalogue essay written by Peter Frank.
EVERYTHING OP IS NEW AGAIN: The Persistence and Recrudescence of Optical
Art Practice, 1970-2015
By Peter Frank
Op Art, treated in its day as a craze or phase, has proven far more durable than its original detractors and even supporters anticipated. For one thing, many of its practitioners viewed it far more seriously than did those commenting upon it; the original Op artists have always considered Op an approach grounded in credible aesthetic evolution and substantive scientific research. For another, they recognized from the beginning that the formal language of Op allowed it to be attractive to the relatively unsophisticated viewer at the same time as it proposed radical extensions of established modernist practice. This was a great part of Op’s appeal, especially in the wake of Pop, a style that had set a tone for its time with its playful character. Similarly, Op could engage a non-professional as well as professional audience in matters of serious physio- and psychological as well as aesthetic investigation. While Pop could be assessed as a socially inflected art (indeed, as a social phenomenon), Op could be assessed as scientific inquiry. From the start – and even more than with Pop – Op Art’s most enthusiastic audience drew from a relatively casual viewership, while the art world often regarded it with suspicion and disdain. In the intervening years, that suspicion and disdain gave way to grudging respect, and certainly to an acknowledgment of Op’s historic pedigree. But the crowd-pleasing aspect of the practice remained irksome in the eyes of the mainstream art world – at least until a younger generation of abstract artists, in its search for new means of invention (especially within a newly forged post-modernist stance), began exploiting Op’s funhouse quality, not simply for its affront to “good taste” (although certainly with that in mind as well), but for its ever-fresh, ever-startling revelations about the vagaries of human visual perception.
This exhibition completes the stylistic (if not yet the historic) arc being traced by the series of shows comprising David Richard Gallery’s “Fifty Years After” series. “Re-Op” looks at later work by various American participants featured in “The Responsive Eye” and their contemporaries and near-contemporaries, and pairs these with works by younger artists – also American – who for various reasons and to various ends have re-employed the languages and effects brought together by William C. Seitz at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Even though the show traveled to four additional venues around the country, most of the latter generation represented here were too young to have seen or even known about the show – if they were even alive at that moment. But a number of them were fortunate enough to study with participants in the broader Op movement, and, clearly, all of them display a keen awareness of what many of the movement’s protagonists achieved and the rigor and discipline they exercised in that achievement.
“Re-Op” affords us a comparison between the works of the original Op generation, even as those works postdate the “Op moment,” and the achievements of a younger generation (or two). Indeed, that the fact that the older artists are represented here by works that are arguably more mature and more stand-alone than those of the “Op era.” allows us to distance them from the tumult of the mid-1960s and to evaluate these Op stalwarts, whatever their other allegiances (color-field, hard edge, kinetic, finish/fetish), as individuals. This, in turn, clarifies the independence-minded self-possession so many of the younger artists evince. They do not form, certainly not consciously, a “neo-Op” tendency. The formal languages they employ are even more diverse than their elders’, and their purposes, while clearly sharing a preoccupation with human vision, are even more disparate.
Still, it could be argued that the younger artists here together establish something of a neo-Op idiom. Their way of working may honor their teachers’ and forerunners’, but it also embraces the technological – and especially the material – advances of their time. To be sure, in their day the older artists were themselves pioneers of new means and materials, driven equally by curiosity and necessity. In that regard, the younger artists inherit and perpetuate their elders’ spirit. But the materials, processes, and supports employed by the artists born after World War II (and even the Vietnam War) reflect a profoundly changed world, one in which image projections are stable, reflective sign materials are commonly available, and there is a general presumption that, at some point along the development of an artwork or series, digital means are engaged. Steel, aluminum, collage, airbrushed paint, stencils, and, certainly, plastics recur from older generation to newer. But by now, the advice imparted in The Graduate – “Plastics!” – is retrospective rather than predictive.
It should be noted that the younger artists represented in “Re-Op” not only follow the original Op generation, but follow (or just overlap with) an intervening generation whose critique of “art” as an expression of “visual culture” gave them license to return to the questions posed and means proposed by Op Art. The emergence of the militantly post- modernist “neo-geo” trend in the mid-1980s, for instance, re-valorized the language of geometry while freeing it of its modernist responsibilities to utopian goals. The impulse to investigate visual phenomena for their own sake – which had impelled most of the original Op artists, and for which the art world had scolded them – was restored to a dignified status in artistic discourse. The neo-geo artists, in turn, had taken a few cues from the pattern painters of a decade previous – some of whom had themselves emerged in the context of Op.
Of course, some of the younger artists here – as, indeed, certain of the older – maintain extra-visual concerns in their work, addressed to theory and/or wider, non-visual praxis. But the appearance of things, and how audience reception of that appearance changes under modified circumstances, is at the heart of all the work on view. In the 1960s Op artists were hard pressed to claim the same contrarian sources that had given rise to Pop; if Dada grandmaster Marcel Duchamp could opine that “the viewer completes the work of art,” Op artists of the day had to explain such subjectivity in analytical terms, or be dismissed as visual entertainers. Today’s Re-Op artists, younger and older, are not burdened with that onus: if they work with optical illusion, they are concerned with both optics and illusions, and that suffices.
New Figurative Paintings by Angela Fraleigh at David Richard Gallery
In her newest paintings, Angela Fraleigh reexamines the classical female nudes from Baroque and Rococo paintings. Specifically, she reconsiders the gaze and thoughts of the posing models by resituating them in new compositions. Fraleigh, a feminist artist, removes the nudes from their original roles as objects of desire, icons, and ornamentation and places them in a new context where they are self-assured, empowered and the central characters. Their bodies are draped and shielded by lush vegetation, saturated color and gold or silver foils. They are lost in their own private thoughts and engage with the women in the painting, unconcerned with the artist or the viewer. She releases these figures from their prescriptive roles in mythological and historical narratives and frees them to be more intriguing characters that are a little mysterious, sometimes whimsical, and often introspective. Essentially, Fraleigh transitions these women from being “in character”—using theatre parlance—to creating their own character and identity. She demonstrates in these paintings that context matters and changes how one is viewed, setting the stage as to how women are, or at least should be, considered and approached. There is still an aspect of voyeurism in these paintings, in keeping with the essence of the Baroque and Rococo masterpieces. Yet, something seems different now, it seems less acceptable, as though a boundary has been crossed. The viewer sees these historical Baroque figures differently as they use the agency of their new positions to shift the balance of power for women, away from being objects of male desire to a state of impartiality, satisfying themselves without remorse and taking what is theirs without asking permission—at least not from a man.
Fraleigh’s paintings are beautifully executed and capture the extravagance, lushness and voluptuousness of the Baroque and Rococo paintings of 17th and 18th century Europe, like those originally created by masters such as Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Francois Boucher (1703-1770), Francesco Furini (1603-1646) and Pietro Liberi (1605-1687). However, Fraleigh deploys a few new techniques and devices to achieve her objectives. In one body of large-scale paintings she applies layers of stains, glazes and saturated hues that provide lush depths and rich colors from which the figures seem to emerge. In the other collection of large paintings, she provides layers of gold or silver foil in a variety of shapes ranging from palmate leaves and tree branches to pure abstractions with the figures on top of, behind and between the many layers. Both devices provide the cloaking and draping of the female figures that takes the attention away from them as seductive objects. They also provide depth to the compositions and richness that only comes from layers of color and forms. More important, these devices provide a level of abstraction and a new context from which to view the figures that beg questions about who they are, where they come from, and what they are doing. The focus shifts from the broader narrative to them individually, their relationships one to the other and unique identities. These abstract devices make Fraleigh’s paintings very fresh and contemporary, bringing them and the imagery into this century and supporting the important conceptual underpinning.
The introduction of abstraction into Fraleigh’s latest figurative paintings not only brings them forward in terms of modernity and the evolution of art history, but with all of the artist’s devices and approaches, there is much more than meets the eye. Fraleigh is thoughtful in every detail. The abstract elements derived from gold and silver foil come from the turn of the century designs by Candace Wheeler. Wheeler was an activist for women and promoted that they should be financially independent; she was one of the first women to earn a living from her own work. Conceptually, this addition validates the independence of women. Formally, the abstraction operates to not only cloak and shield the female bodies as noted above, but more important, to create a dream-like setting where the figures are floating and not grounded. This dream state allows a revisioning of how the world and women’s fates can be different, creating a path away from history of the female body as a sexual object, toward women being empowered and appreciated for intellectual, cultural and social contributions. These future accomplishments become a realization by using and celebrating the successes of women like Wheeler who have and continue to pave the way for others.
These newest paintings by Angela Fraleigh are featured in the current exhibition, “(Un)Real”, at David Richard Gallery. Curated by New York-based curators, Mary Dinaburg and Howard Rutkowski, the exhibition also features paintings by Michele Bubacco, David Humphrey, Martin Mull and Claire Oliver.
View the exhibition at:
View Angela Fraleigh’s paintings at:
By: David Eichholtz
Posted: 2015 September 09
DRprojects at David Richard Gallery featuring Matthew Kluber, Phillis Ideal, Gregory Botts, and Michael Scott
DRprojects at David Richard Gallery www.DavidRichardGallery.com is a platform that allows the gallery to highlight new and experimental artworks by the gallery’s artists as well as guest artists and curators. It is a pleasure introducing new talent and exciting artwork to the community and our collectors.
Currently, DRprojects is featuring new artworks by the following artists.
Matthew Kluber has 3 new projections on view in the gallery in a project called “Electr-O-Pura”. Specifically, they are computer-generated digital images projected onto a painted aluminum panel. The combination of the light-based moving digital imagery and stationary painted surface creates a unique hybrid that is stunning. His clever programming and software keeps them fresh. They are like slow moving paintings. Each measures 48” tall by 96” wide. Check them out in the gallery or view short videos of each on the website at http://www.davidrichardgallery.com/Matthew-Kluber-Art.cfm?ArtistsID=805&NewID=8621
Phillis Ideal’s new collages in hot summer colors are featured the project “Copy, Paste, Save”. Ideal pours, brushes, sweeps and smears paint onto a variety of supports: canvas, paper, panel and the floor. The strokes and puddles of color are then cut and assembled onto larger supports and collaged with portions of her works on paper, screens and other found materials. See her new abstractions at http://www.davidrichardgallery.com/Exhibit_Detail.cfm?ShowsID=270
Gregory Botts. Earlier this summer the gallery presented a selection of larger site and studio paintings by Botts, side-by-side in a salon hang similar to his presentation in March of this year at Austin Peay University. The presentation shed light on his intricate process for creating his wonderful studio paintings. That process takes representational imagery from paintings from various site locations and combines them with elements of abstraction, all set to the rhythms of poetry, and infused with art criticism and history. The results are compelling paintings that capture a cycle of nature and the evolution of contemporary art. This selection, “The Southern Route” focuses on smaller site paintings, mostly from Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and California. See them in person in the gallery’s Viewing Room and on the following web page: http://www.davidrichardgallery.com/Exhibit_Detail.cfm?ShowsID=271
Continuing with landscape painting, Michael Scott’s new project is painting grand landscapes from American National Parks and forests. However, there are some interesting twists and uses of materials, but you will have to wait until the masterpieces are completed and ready to exhibit. Scott’s painting practice strives to capture the awe and scale of nature in the tradition of American landscape painting. He does this by creating a spiritual connection with the landscape and focusing on metaphysical symbols from Native culture—the wolf, owl, spiral of smoke, etc. This project, “On The Road Again” features a number of small studies for the larger scale paintings that Scott painted while traveling around the country in his Bambi camper. See these great studies in the gallery’s Viewing Room or on the following webpage: http://www.davidrichardgallery.com/Exhibit_Detail.cfm?ShowsID=272
Written by David Eichholtz
Santa Fe, August 30, 2015
David Humphrey at David Richard Gallery
Regarding the recent paintings and drawings of artist David Humphrey, they are very curious indeed. What is the imagery? Who are these people? What is the message? Many are included in the exhibition entitled, “(Un)Real”, curated by Mary Dinaburg and Howard Rutkowski on view now at David Richard Gallery www.DavidRichardGallery.com . Visit the exhibition page at http://www.davidrichardgallery.com/Exhibit_Detail.cfm?ShowsID=266
Humphrey is new to the roster at David Richard Gallery. For many collectors, the gallery is best known for its focus on Post War abstraction. Therefore, Humphrey’s figurative paintings might seem a bit out of step. But, not really, since his paintings reference and pay homage—some tongue-in-cheek—to visionary modern artists and abstract painters. Also, Humphrey incorporates formal elements of abstraction—mostly the gesture—with his Pop sensibility and cartoonish figures. But, more than the formal qualities, his paintings are conceptual and abstractions with respect to the protagonists and situations he portrays.
At first glance, Humphrey’s paintings are colorful and instantly engaging due to the recognizable characters and elements. Some are witty, others outlandish and a few almost like a Polaroid. They seem straightforward at first, but they really are complex in that we are viewing people, who in turn are viewing something that we do not know or understand. That is the hook and how the mystery begins. However, there is more complexity because Humphrey is an art historian as well as a brilliant writer and critic. His paintings are full of subtle references under the guise of being reductive and “what you see is what you see”.
To me, Humphrey’s paintings are about story telling and how a story changes as it passes from one storyteller to another. But, they are also about imagining situations and understanding people through the eyes of someone else, through their filters and memories. Humphrey is intrigued by the artworks of amateur painters and often, their artworks are the basis for his own paintings. There is a simplicity and honesty in the amateur paintings. Not knowing the people, places or situations in those paintings, Humphrey views the amateur painting and tries to imagine what was happening. Why was this situation or these people memorialized in this handmade rendering as opposed to taking a photograph? Humphrey then adds characters, modifies situations and embellishes to put his spin on the original.
Formally, Humphrey’s paintings are flattened out with a graphic and Pop sensibility. This is a very clever technique, as Mary Dinaburg noted in a recent gallery talk, because it depersonalizes the painting, making it more accessible and open to alternative interpretations. The technique also puts the focus on only one or two key elements in the composition: the protagonist and an aspect of the situation. The viewer does not get the complete story from Humphrey. Like the artist, we (the viewer) must now get into the head of the creator and try to view the painting from his perspective. The story evolves from the original yet again as we view the paintings and interpret them for ourselves with our own biases and histories.
Frequently, Humphrey adds broad gestural strokes in what would otherwise be a negative space in a painting. Or, sometimes, the gestures comprise the majority of the painting with the figures being in a corner or at the bottom of the painting in the very low horizon line. These gestures operate in two ways. One is to add a unifying compositional element without adding more detail that would otherwise take away from the protagonist, again, focusing the viewer’s attention on the most relevant elements. The other is to create tension across the canvas and convey the sense of abstraction. The combination of starting with something that is recognizable, ‘funking’ them up them through the narrative process and unifying them with gestural slashes of color produces abstractions that stand up to almost any non-objective Post War paintings.
Artist Profile – Meridel Rubenstein
Small of stature and big on ideas, lively, talkative. and more than a little impishly intellectual, Meridel Rubenstein has for four decades successfully pushed the boundaries of post-modernism in photography and installation through original photo-processes, and a socially active, post-feminist (dare we say, humanist) figurative engagement with environmental issues. Or as the artist succinctly puts it when asked about the germination of her diverse bodies of work, “There are three things that have to be present for me to start a project-the body, war. and nature.” Her eyes darken; her expression becomes serious. “History is always really important. When everything I’m thinking about at the time comes together in one story, that’s when I know I have to do it. “
Born in Detroit in 1948, and spending summers at the family farm in Vermont. Rubenstein describes herself as “always city/country conflicted.” She majored in film “and protesting Vietnam” at Sarah Lawrence. In the late 1960s, she worked with a left-wing, agit-prop film collective in Vermont, along with members of New York Newsreel. Just as her own experimental filmmaking process led to a “film of stills,” she had the good fortune to study at MIT with photographer Minor White. “He was the quintessential modernist, “she recalls. “He taught me purity and sequence.” In 1977. she completed her MFA in photography at the University of New Mexico where she worked with surrealist Van Deren Coke. He introduced her to a far more experimental approach. “So I have both sides, you see. A part of me as an artist that is almost 19th century, and another part that is much more open conceptually.”
Her technique developed over many years of making large-scale palladium prints of people and place, sometimes stamped with text and mounted on steel, or presented in even more novel ways-printed on glass, afloat on a boat, etc.-while her content took root in her concern for universal human and environmental rights. Similar concerns drive the work of Ai Weiwei, Rirkrit liravanija, Francis Alys, Christian Boltanski, Anselm Kiefer, and Mel Chin, who are properly her peers. Her early 1990s masterpiece, Oppenheimer’s Chair, a stunning glass house and video meditation on how hot it might get to sit in the driver’s seat of the Manhattan Project for all eternity, is being considered for the permanent collection of the Nevada Museum of Art’s Center for Art + Environment this year. This comes 20 years after SITE Santa Fe commissioned it for their first biennial, which opened by chance exactly on the 50th anniversary of the first Trinity test-the small coincidence that set the piece in motion.
Today Rubenstein divides her time between Santa Fe and teaching at Nanyang Technical University in Singapore. This year she has two solo shows-in Santa Fe this spring at David Richard Gallery, and in the fall at her longtime San Francisco venue, Brian Gross Fine Art. And she’s taking another trip to Iraq, the epicenter of civilization, as part of her latest boundary-blending art experiment. “Eden Turned on its Side,” the title of her new trilogy, denotes a conceptual, photo and multi-media based project. The three parts are Photosynthesis-“a straightforward representation of the carbon cycle” focused on beautifully shot and altered images of leaves and trees-The Volcano Cycle-mixed-media light magic performed with imagery from the Pacific Ring of fire, raising the possibility that nature’s destructive forces are also renewing-and Eden in Iraq. This ambitious final segment encompasses Rubenstein’s directorship of a collaborative architectural, art garden project in the Mesopotamian marshes with Nature Iraq, an NGO dedicated to water remediation. The centerpiece is an elaborate. elegantly designed wastewater garden on the ancient marsh site in southern Iraq that many consider to be the Biblical Eden. The landscape architectural forms. the shapes. colors and volumes. are aesthetically derived from a post-modern mix of the eons of Mesopotamian mythologies and cultures that have flourished and foundered in the region.
The artwork exists primarily as a conceptual set of connections between people and places depicted in haunting landscapes, unique multimedia works, and symbol rich landscape architecture. In Rubenstein’s work, the overarching focus remains on the human heart, and human rights in relationship to land, and to the natural environment. She sums it up nicely: “After millennia of destruction, can Eden be restored? In the largest sense. that’s really the question I want this work to ask.”
Fine Art Exhibition of Work from the 1960s Opens in New York
The cross-fertilization of ideas and inspiration between art and design continues apace. Exhibit A: “The Responding Eye: ’60s Now,” one of the most intriguing fine art exhibitions to hit Manhattan in recent months, which is currently on view at the Greenwich Village decorative arts gallery Maison Gerard.
The show celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Museum of Modern Art’s landmark 1965 exhibition “The Responsive Eye,” which presented the work of nearly 100 international artists engaged in Op Art, Geometric Abstraction, Hard-Edge Painting, and other forms of expression that turned away from the raw emotion of an earlier generation of gestural abstract painters.
The artists represented in the exhibit may not be as familiar as, say, Mark Rothko or Jackson Pollock, but they nevertheless exerted a profound influence on the Minimalism and Conceptual movements that were beginning to coalesce in the 1960s and early ’70s. For art aficionados who may not happen to possess a Ph.D. in 20th-century painting, this show offers a concise yet compelling introduction to the work of Leon Berkowitz, Francis Hewitt, Beatrice Mandelman, Paul Reed, and others.
The good news for collectors is that, unlike the astronomical sums that canvases by Rothko, Pollock, and their peers typically fetch, the prices for the works on view at Maison Gerard are decidedly more accessible. In any case, they’re well worth seeing.
Artwork curated by David Richard Gallery through May 27, Maison Gerard, 43 & 53 East 10th Street, New York; maisongerard.com
Beloved D.C. Artist Tom Green and his Surrealistic, Graphic Vocabulary
Tom Green took cues from consumerism, politics, and the everyday around him to build Boschean, graphic landscapes of cavorting geometry. Working within his own surrealistic visual language—part front-facing hieroglyphics, part freehand cartooning—Green brought a lighthearted approach to an advanced understanding of color, composition, and the realities of contemporary situations.
This spring, David Richard Gallery in Santa Fe debuts “Tom Green – Mapping the Human Condition (family, nature, war, authority, memory, compassion).” The exhibition features a selection from Green’s last series of work made before his death from ALS in 2012, as well as paintings and works on paper from throughout his career.
Considered to be one of the most prominent Washington D.C. artists of the last century, Green led art in the city away from the prevalent trend of painters in the Washington Color School (such as Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland), while working for 35 years as an instructor at the Corcoran College of Art and Design. He encouraged his students to look inward towards a personal vocabulary of form, a commandment he personified. One of his most defining characteristics to those who knew him was his ever-present black sketchbook in which he would constantly draw, reacting to the world around him.
The works on view at David Richard Gallery show the focused attention of an artist who had worked to solidify his unique methodology. In various works on paper and canvas, we see pop, narrative tableaus depicting an spirit of joy, as well as a concern for the heavier, threatening aspects of modern existence. Hard edged color and graphic forms give an ominous tone to Two Conditions (1983), which seems to threaten two equally violent and undesirable scenarios. Memory (1994) has a contemplative inwardness in its monochrome palette and composition. In stark contrast, Puppet (1988) is a buoyant and busy work on paper that pushes onward and upward through turmoil. In Gadget (1987), a bright, fun object stands front-and-center, resembling both an indefinable machine and a futuristic, Inca-inspired deity.
Considering the productive nature of the artist’s practice and his constant response to events around him, it is no surprise that these works, like human characters, cycle through emotional up- and downswings. Filtering the world around him into his own pictorial space throughout an incredibly prolific career, Green’s works are useful markers in illustrating the rapid shifts of the world around him as it entered a new and chaotic century.
What You See Is What You Think You See?
What You See Is What You Think You See?
In 1965, the Museum of Modern Art open The Responsive Eye, an exhibition of what most people refer to as op art.
The works abandoned all association with nature, such as a horizontal line that could suggest a landscape, as well as the gestural painterly-ness of the abstract expressionists. The new work brought scientific and psychological studies of perception into the world of art. Rather than “telling” the brain what the eye is seeing, it allows the eye to see what it sees, and the brain to interpret what is there. The exhibition’s curator, William Seitz, said the title of the exhibition was chosen “to indicate an activity, not the kind of art.”
He asked, “Can such works, that refer to nothing outside themselves, replace with psychic effectiveness the content that has been abandoned? What are the potentialities of a visual art capable of affecting perception so physically and directly? Can an advanced understanding and application of functional images open a new path from retinal excitation to emotions and ideas?”
In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the exhibition, David Richard Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is mounting a series of exhibitions curated by David Eichholtz and Peter Frank. The first was Post-Op: ‘The Responsive Eye’ Fifty Years After, February 24 through April 11. The second, Op Infinitum: ‘The Responsive Eye’ Fifty Years After, opens May 29 and continues through July 6. Post-Op explored the “roster” of artists from the MoMA exhibition and examined the artists’ work “during and after the op art ‘craze’ of the mid-1960s.”
Op Infinitum further explores artist from The Response Eye, as well as work from the ’60s by other artists working in the same vein but not included in the exhibition. Subsequent exhibitions in the David Richard Gallery series will “feature artwork by contemporary artists who continue to push art into the perceptual realm with new materials and technologies that create visual sensations, immersive experiences and view-active engagement,” as well as later-career and contemporary work by artists from The Responsive Eye. The final installment of this series will turn to the international artists from Europe and Latin America who were an important part of the MoMA exhibition.
In his essay for the first of the exhibitions, art historian and curator Frank observes the artists associated with op art remained true to the principles that inspired them 50 years ago.
“Their sensibilities,” he writes, “oriented toward systematic investigation and the evolution of coherent form, maintain throughout their careers whether or not their latest practice diverged from op art or even from geometric abstraction in general. Some went back to the exploration of perceptual stimulation after working in others (if related) styles…And succeeding generations of artists – notably but not exclusively painters, and notably but not exclusively Americans – have referred to op mannerisms or even return to op practices, interested all over again in what can be done to stimulate the eye beyond the expected, beyond the quotidian, beyond the prosaic. Op art stays stubbornly fresh, as long as the human eye stays gullible and enchantable.”
I began my own museum career toward the end of the op art “craze” and was amazed, walking through Post-Op, at how fresh the paintings and constructions still are. Fifty years later, science may know a little more about how the sensations occur, but their visceral impact is still surprising.
Julian Stanczak (born 1928) was training to be a musician in Poland when he lost the use of his right arm in a Siberian labor camp during World War II. He learned to paint left-handed and studied with Josef Albers at Yale. His first exhibition in New York was Julian Stanczak Optical Paintings, held at Martha Jackson Gallery the year before The Responsive Eye at MoMA. The shifting, transparent forms, planes and colors of Tactile See-Through, 1974, continue to engage in amaze.
Oli Sihvonen (1921 -1991) also studied under Albers, but at Black Mountain College. He came to Taos, New Mexico, in the late 1940s with a group of Black Mountain students and returned later as a full-time resident for more than a decade. Untitled (230), 1968, has areas of pure color that are affected by the colors around them. In his essay for The Responsive Eye, Seitz wrote about black-and-white works. “Almost everything that can be stated generally about optical painting in color is also true a black and white, and the opposite is also the case. The primary aim from which both result is beauty of form, and tasteful relationships, nor equilibrium in the old sense but the activation of vision. And color is unnecessary for perceptual ambiguity, variability and movement. “Ward Jackson’s (1928 2004) Parallel Point #1 illustrates his point as we “see” movement and changes in tone where there are none.
Frank quotes Frank Stella, who said, “What you see is what you see.” Frank then notes that op artists would say, “What you see is what you think you see.
Santa Fe’s Art Now: A Mix of Show and Sell
Santa Fe’s Art Now: A Mix of Show and Sell
No gallery keeps the spirit of contemporary art alive in Santa Fe better than David Richard, now located in the Railyard District. The gallery has a unique identity in the local scene, specializing in work from the 1960s through the 1980s. You see big names there, from a living and not-long-dead set broad enough to include Willem De Kooning, Francis Celentano and Judy Chicago.
544 S. Guadalupe St., Santa Fe, 505-983-9555, davidrichardgallery.com
Two artists but one theme: war
Washington painter Phyllis Plattner’s semi-classical pictures depict bombings, shootings and decapitations. Argentine-bred glass artist Silvia Levenson’s wall sculptures simulate baby clothes in bright, nursery school hues. Yet both women’s work carries the same theme: war.
Two floors apart at the American University Museum, their art ponders historical violence in ways that are deliberate yet immediate. Although their methods and inspirations are quite different, Plattner’s “Gods of War!” and Levenson’s “Identidad” are equally vivid and personal.
Levenson was not only in Argentina in 1976, but also pregnant when people were “disappeared” and their babies awarded to government loyalists. Plattner was visiting Mexico’s Chiapas state in 1994 when Mayan rebels known as Zapatistas began a revolt against the national government. She began collecting locally made dolls of masked Zapatista fighters, but it wasn’t until five years later, when she was living in Florence, that the dolls entered her work.
Plattner began reimagining Italian masterpieces with the dolls in place of religious and mythological figures. Some of those works are included in this exhibition, but the painter didn’t fully engage her subject until she began emulating Renaissance altar pieces that group multiple scriptural scenes in gold-framed symmetrical arrangements.
Within this ornate format, Plattner incorporated notable pictures by such bloody-minded maestros as Caravaggio. But while Plattner’s compositions are derived from 14th- to 17th- century Italy, she doesn’t quote only from that time and place. She pairs renderings of biblical murder and martyrdom with Goya’s well-known depiction of a Napoleonic-era firing squad and Picasso’s even more famed “Guernica.” Plattner also roves beyond Europe, incorporating Asian and Meso-American images of battle and warriors. All are rendered in close approximations of their original styles, whether Japanese woodblock prints or Picasso’s cubism.
Phyllis Plattner’s “Chronicle of War, Faces.” (Phyllis Plattner)
It may be the black-and-white “Guernica,” details of which feature in several of the multi-part paintings, that led Plattner to incorporate photographs. She uses oil paints and brushes to replicate iconic snapshots from World War II, the Vietnam conflict and more recent cataclysms. Separated by gold-leaf borders are the entrance to Auschwitz, the naked Vietnamese girl fleeing a napalm attack, the World Trade Center towers ablaze, an abused prisoner at Abu Ghraib and African child soldiers.
Many of these images are instantly recognizable, yet Plattner doesn’t allow them to overpower her overall compositions. Arranged into suites, the paintings pair infamies across eras, matching romanticized legend to stark photojournalism. “Chronicles of War/Heads and Hands” is a fugue of horrific wounds and deaths. In “Chronicles of War/Moments,” a dying St. Sebastian, pierced by arrows, looks away from the corpse of a lynched African American man.
One interesting effect of such juxtapositions is to make visceral the suffering that Christian art traditionally presents as spiritual. Pious viewers may object, but in Plattner’s paintings no kinds of torture and killing appear more exalted than others.
To make these multifaceted works, the artist mastered many styles and techniques, including the woodworking necessary for the elaborate frames. Such complex pieces can’t be made quickly, so the evolution of Plattner’s style — and outlook — is inevitably slow. But it seems that her more recent paintings seek a balance between war and peace. Although they’re still clustered with images of killing and mourning, some panels are devoted to birds, cherubs or serene skies. The news from the battlefield remains dreadful, but there are other things to behold.
From a certain angle, Levenson’s “Identidad” seems more cheerful than Plattner’s work. More than 100 colored-glass bibs, bloomers and pairs of socks line a long, white wall, evoking the love elicited and hope inspired by the very young. On the other side of the gallery, however, several dozen glass knives dangle over a photo of two young girls — the artist and her sister, standing in for both a later generation and an entire nation.
The ominous blades are the show’s only visual representation of violence. Two videos explain the fates of the disappeared and the children stolen from their families, as well as the campaign of the Grandmothers of the Plaza be Mayo. (They’ve helped identify 116 of some 500 babies born while their mothers were imprisoned between 1976 and 1983.) Levenson’s work is less outraged than pensive, musing on the loss of such children as the girl in “She Flew Away,” which consists of just a swing and a pair of shoes, both made of glass.
That material is suitably ambiguous: solid but translucent, heavy yet fragile. Levenson’s glass garments catch the light in a lively way, yet are stiff and unmoving, and without bodies to animate them. As clothing for actual children, of course, kiln-cast socks and pants are useless. But as symbols for missing persons, they are poignantly both present and absent.
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