New Contemporary Show Opens at Worcester Art Museum
WORCESTER, MASS., July 6, 2000 - Is a painting confined to layers of pigment on a flat surface? Must it take the form of a horizontal plane on a vertical wall? Painting Pushed to Extremes explores works by Polly Apfelbaum, Matt Harle, Jim Isermann, and Bill Thompson - four young artists whose art physically and conceptually challenges conventional definitions of painting. On view at the Worcester Art Museum from July 15 - November 12, 2000, this maverick show defies everything you ever thought paintings represented. A gallery talk and reception for the four artists will be held on Thursday, September 21, from 7-9 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public for the talk and reception.
"The works of these artists integrate materials such as stretch velvet, vinyl, shag carpet, and automobile paint and lay claim to the floor as well as the wall," says Susan Stoops, curator of Contemporary Art at the Worcester Art Museum. "Embracing such disparate references as domestic handicrafts, industrial design, the natural world, pop culture, and postwar abstraction, these artists make hybrid works in which categories of painting, sculpture, craft, and design consciously spill into one another."
Apfelbaum works primarily with unstretched fabric that she stains with liquid dyes to create floor installations she has described as "fallen paintings." The casualness of her presentations - multiple pieces laid in piles or stacks on the floor - and the irreverence of her material - synthetic velvet - consciously counter monumentality and the grand tradition of oil painting. According to Apfelbaum: "These are hybrid works, poised between painting and sculpture; works not so much attempting to invent new categories but working promiscuously and improperly - poaching - in fields seemingly already well defined." Her use of color is "excessive, verging on the decorative," yet remains open to interpretation, stirring our memories and emotions. Her use of velvet, on the other hand, references an array of concrete associations to skin, clothing, craft, gender, and class.
Convincingly negotiating the sometimes slippery edge between painting and sculpture, Matt Harle creates unconventional paintings of found and constructed color.
Working on the wall as well as the floor, Harle incorporates material such as slabs of pink or blue Styrofoam that serve as a field of color as well as a three-dimensional support for applied pigment and plaster. These structures are then sheathed by a custom-fitted, translucent vinyl slipcover. The works are a fusion of Minimalist objecthood, Color Field painting, and Pop plasticity. In Harle's hands, traditional painting properties of color and light transmute from the perceptual into the physical. Peering through a vinyl curtain to exposed layers of concrete color, we become active participants and must learn to navigate through the pleasures and pitfalls of this unfamiliar and extreme terrain.
Since the 1980s, Jim Isermann's work has created a stimulating visual dialogue and conceptual bridge between interior design and installation, furniture and sculpture, and painting and patterning. In his "shag paintings" Isermann joins painting and rugmaking by literally and optically pairing an enamel-painted surface with a textured area of hand-made shag. With one foot in the intellectual arena of abstract art and the other in the world of popular crafts, Isermann's works democratically embrace both. While the works remind us how modernist art and design precedents in the works of Jean Arp, Alvar Aalto, and Bridget Riley trickled down into middle class culture, Isermann also asks us to consider the reciprocal nature of contemporary art and popular culture. Commenting on his "shag paintings" Isermann has said: "At the time I made them, I was looking at works from the 'Responsive Eye' exhibition (at the Museum of Modern Art in 1965). The whole idea of Op Art was that the work generated a physical experience that happened in your retina and not in your brain. What I liked about Op was that, ideally, you didn't need to know anything to get it." In these retro diptychs, where the 1970s suburban staple of shag carpeting is paired off with a "knock-off" version of geometric abstract painting, it's up to us to determine who is imitating whom.
Readings of Bill Thompson's seductive monochromatic panels, self-described as "altered flats," hover between the inviting rippling surface of a lake and the "come-on" glossy curves of a Harley Davidson motorcycle, and are largely dependent upon our relation to the color he has selected from an available array of autobody urethanes. Consciously positioning his paintings and his viewers between two worlds - the physical one we inhabit and the artificial place of painting - Thompson questions the orthodoxy of abstract space and the conventional relationship we have with painting. Often assembled in pairs or suites and resembling cutaway slabs or color swatches from a larger whole, the panels offer an antithesis to modernism's insistence on the essential "flatness" of the picture plane. Thompson eliminates the flatness of the support itself through a labor intensive, subtractive process of sanding (from belt to orbital to hand) and polishing. He then arrives at an object/image that is undeniably monochrome (abstract) but one that, as a result of its undulating contours and highly reflective enameled surface, provocatively embraces us and our environment as we move into "its" view.
Opened to the public in 1898, the Worcester Art Museum is the second largest art museum in New England. Its exceptional 35,000-piece collection of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photography, prints and drawings is displayed in 36 galleries and spans 5,000 years of art and culture, ranging from Egyptian antiquities and Roman mosaics to Impressionist paintings and contemporary art. Throughout its first century, the Worcester Art Museum proved itself a pioneer: the first American museum to purchase work by Claude Monet (1910) and Paul Gauguin (1921); the first museum to bring a medieval building to America (1927); a sponsor of the first major excavation at Antioch, one of the four great cities of ancient Rome (1932); the first museum to create an Art All-State program for high school artists (1987); the originator of the first exhibition of Dutch master Judith Leyster (1993); and the first museum to focus its contemporary art programs on art of the last 10 years (1998). The Museum's hours are: Wednesday through Sunday, 11am-5pm, and Saturday 10am-5pm. Admission: FREE for members; Non-members: $8 Adults; $6 Seniors and full-time college students with current ID; FREE for youth 17 and under; FREE for everyone Saturday mornings 10am-noon sponsored by The TJX Companies and Massachusetts Electric Company. For more information, call (508) 799-4406 or visit the Museum at 55 Salisbury Street in Worcester.