Friday, February 10, 2006

This is where we can toss around ideas about art, mostly, or ideas about other topics in our contemporary world. Lately I'm interested in the articles in NATURE and the New York Times about authenticating the "newly found" Pollock paintings. Computer technology meets abstract primal paint tossin'. What a concept. More to say on that soon, but for now, welcome!


  1. Robert Ryman Exhibition Review

    Dallas Museum of Art: December 18, 2005 – April 2, 2006

    This exhibit of 40 of painter Robert Ryman’s works, completed from the early 1960s to 2003 or 2004, is installed in six locations in the museum: in the four “quadrant galleries” of the museum, in one end of the large central barrel vault, and in yet another location down the hall in the entrance to the contemporary gallery. The 75-year-old artist oversaw the installation process himself, but I wonder if spreading the show out so much around the museum was his choice. Most of these paintings deal with nuance and subtle shifts in surface texture or color. Wandering from one grouping to another through the vast open space of the museum breaks the mood and reduces the power of the paintings considerably.

    Putting that aside, this is a comprehensive and varied show by an artist who is known for making “white paintings.” Some of the earliest pieces are white-on-white, but others have thick brushstrokes of color mingled with the white on raw brown linen surfaces. There are four large square paintings done on stainless steel that have never been seen publicly before. And nearly hidden away is a small walk-through gallery full of recent color monoprints, about a foot square each, mounted directly to the walls. This is a show where every piece is important and essential. That is rare in a survey of an artist’s work and is a tribute to the skill of DMA curator Charlie Wylie. I’ll mention a few paintings that I consider highlights.

    A large creamy flat-white canvas about 7 feet tall is nearly covered with glossy narrow but thickly painted horizontal brushstrokes. However in two places, left center, and upper right, the number “96” appears in blank spots between brushstrokes. Everything in the painting is the same white color, so what you notice are the contrasts of surface texture, and of figures with abstract paint. The painting is hung quite high, about 4 or 5 feet off the floor. This gives it a sense of (false?) importance which would not be there if it were hung nearer eye level.

    In one room, two white paintings about 10-feet square each hang on opposite walls from each other. The shades of white are different, one nearly blue-gray, and the other off-white. Both are thinly painted, but in the “blue” one the brushiness seems random across the whole surface, while the “white” one has uniform horizontal strokes. The important contrast in this room is not so much within one painting as it is between the two paintings (and between the paintings and the white wall!). Installed this way, Ryman’s white paintings have an effect similar to Mark Rothko’s black paintings in Houston’s Rothko Chapel.

    The most serene painting in the show is about 2 ½-feet square, on linen, mounted to the wall top and bottom with bright aluminum brackets screwed to the wall. This makes the painting float about 3 inches off the wall. There are almost no brush strokes visible in this soft white field, which extends to within one quarter- or one eighth-inch from the edges of the stretchers on all four sides. This is a Zen-like silent work that invites viewing and contemplation. What makes it work this way, I believe, is again Ryman’s use of contrast between the soft touch used to make the painted surface, and the rigid metal support firmly fixing it to the wall.

    The most surprising pieces are the four stainless steel paintings. These were done in the early 1960s but look so fresh that they could have come out of a studio yesterday. Generally geometric in design, they carry traces of Ryman’s signature brushstrokes in patches, along with areas resembling David Smith’s scumbled metal sculptures. One piece has a square in the upper center that is mirrored in a way that seems three-dimensional. These paintings play with space and dimension like some of Larry Bell’s cubes or powdered metal pieces, and in each one, the virtual and the actual constantly shift before our eyes.

    Robert Ryman’s paintings float between the physical world and the spiritual world, sometimes seeming to be structured and functional but at other times seeming to be just made of concepts, thoughts, and feelings. That is what makes them so fascinating to look at. They are somehow just like us.

    Michael Cross

  2. My overall reason for investigating patterns in my own work is to question the basic idea of ANY art being spontaneous. If there are patterns, then doesn't the artist really know that, and in fact does the artist continually compare the work-in-progress with his (hidden) mental image of the piece? Is the matching of that image with the actual work the point at which the work is judged "finished"?