exhibitions

Devotion

  • 07.04.2010 - 16.05.2010|

Artists selected by Joe Fyfe :
Joe FYFE
Mary HEILMANN
Alix LE MELEDER
Emily KAME KNGWARREYE
Chris MARTIN
Pat STEIR
Joel SHAPIRO
Al TAYLOR

The title of the exhibition is meant to evoke art as un-alienating work. Each artwork has been chosen as a model of doing and making that affords the visibility of dedication. Among the dictionary definitions of ’devotion’ are: faithfulness, commitment, fondness & care; also spirituality, sanctity, worship & prayer. The filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky, in his pamphlet, ’Devotional Cinema’ states that the idea of the devotional need not refer to the embodiment of a specific religious form, rather the opening or interruption that allows us to experience what is hidden, subverts our absorption in the temporal and reveals the depths of our own reality and opens us to a fuller sense of ourselves and the world. David Carrier: “Some writers believe that, appearances notwithstanding, all art shares deep values.”
Alix le Meleder makes her paintings through a bodily orientation. A continuing, sporadic brushstroke takes place on the center right side of a primed canvas, adjacent to the edge. Then the canvas is rotated, and another stroke is made until the work is complete. Marking lived moments, like the work of Hanne Darboven and On Kawara, there is a consciousness of the paintings ’skin’: each patch of color reveals previous decisions, like rings on a tree. Le Meleder admits to a metaphysical element in her work. T.S. Eliot admired the metaphysical poets for their “direct sensuous apprehension of thought.” ’Devotion’ is also, in its way, involved with the ’poetic’. By ’Poetic’ this writer means something very specific. He once knew a poet who lived in Brooklyn and always walked. Because of his experience of the world, walking where others traveled by motor, he became, one projects, intimate with steel, asphalt, exhaust, trees, rubber, etc. Chris Martin’s paintings attempt to resolve a reverence for transcendental American abstractionists from Alfred to Bill Jensen to Forrest Bess with an anti-art stance that is awash in comedic grittiness. His untitled painting contrasts a dark black ground with a scattering of plush pompoms scattered over a miasma of sticky liquids: an update on Walt Whitman as Ronald Macdonald on the shores of Wallabout Bay, wading through tar and bones. ’Devotion’ was also partly inspired by ’In-finitum’, an exhibition installed in an antiquated palazzo, the Fortuny Museum in Venice: 300 artworks and objects, including antique medicinal charts, an unfinished Cezanne, 10th century Khmer pots—squashed kiln accidents—an Alberto Burri work of dark crackling scales of paint, archeological fragments; its progenitor, Axel Vervoordt is apparently a mystifier, aesthete and impresario; the selection, a personal cabinet of wonders. Plato called erõs the desire to possess beauty. Still, the show had a visceral and affective sensibility. It showcased art and artifacts together as cultural material. Similarly, ’Devotion’ is a personal selection, and—like the site of ’In-finitum, originally the designer Mariano Fortuny’s atelier—it is situated in what was Joel Shapiro’s studio: the extant floorboards of the gallery preserve traces of its former occupant. Shapiro returns with a floor sculpture, characteristic as a fragment of post-constructivist balletic, athletic figuration, unusual in its turmeric coloring. Shapiro once told students that an artist needs enough confidence to leave the work as it is: It was critical that the artist somehow reveal his anxiety about the work, in the work, otherwise it was easy to confuse making art with making finished objects of no real interest. In this way, perhaps ’Devotion’s chief precedent has to do with modernism’s disruption of boundaries between fine and décorative
art—the Arts and crafts movement, the Bauhaus, Constructivism, etc—and its technical appropriations from industrial and folk crafts. Cubism appropriated collage—previously mostly a domestic pastime; German expressionism held woodcarving as the highest art. Sculpture as practiced by Picasso and Gonzales incorporated welding; Matisse advanced painting through depicting decorative fabric patterns. Accompanying this de-hierachization of methodology, a longing for an artisanal continuity appeared---a desire among artists to consider themselves as workers. Mary Heilmann’s work still betrays her early training as a potter. Paint is treated almost like glaze over the canvas, the sides are painted as if it is an object, and the color approximates vernacular decorative sources such as souvenir Mexican blankets. The artist is in a dialogue with the materials involved with the making of the artwork. Al Taylor’s relief sculpture, for example, was influenced by travel in Africa where he observed how necessary objects were made from what was immediately available. This allowed him to formulate an improvisational working method, with no fixed rules. “Just aspects of labor approaching a surprise” he said in an interview,“Basically, I want them [the materials] to talk to me rather than me talking to them.” The late painter Moira Dryer, once asked if she felt a commitment to the idea of abstraction, replied, “Not abstraction as a religious activity. Not formalist or utopian abstraction where you look at it and are supposed to forget all your troubles, like with drugs. That kind of abstraction is like amnesia. I like to think of my works as artifacts”. Emily Kame Kngwarreye moved from making batik to painting with acrylic polymer on canvas at the age of 78 and in the next eight years produced around three thousand paintings. Emily did not leave her ancestral homeland – which was her subject – called Alhalkere or “Utopia” in the central desert region of Australia’s Northern Territory. Kngwarreye is always in full command of painting: utilizing strings of splotches made by the heads of round-tip brushes. Sometimes there is bunched-up color – muddied aqueous biscuits of paint – but the mixes maintain their clarity. The works are not traditionally pictorial in that there is no consciousness of paintings’ history of illusionistic space, but one is nonetheless afforded a complete painting experience: the works inform the eye and the body, both with a general and a specific tactility. Dryer, no doubt was referring to that cult of spiritual seekers that exists within abstraction, but this exhibition regards a more material immanence: Two examples of practitioners in another discipline, music, might illustrate this principle: The piano compositions of both John Cage and Thelonius Monk have a particular way of raising the consciousness of the listener as to the make up of the instrument. Along with the music, there is an acute awareness of the piano’s physical presence, that one is listening to wood, taut steel strings, felt, brass. Pat Steir once said that reality and abstraction are the same thing. According to her, it is only a matter of focus. Her painting, “Two Golds” made with brass paint over green underpainting, seems to announce spring, as it revels in an opulence of soaking metallic paint, fresh as rain. The devotional can be understood as the quality of improvising within the territory of the medium. The making aspect of the work is its central metaphor. Andre Malraux contended that works of art, no longer made for anything but a purely ’artistic’ purpose, become no more, and no less, than ’moments’ in the beholders experience. Joe Fyfe (this writer) has been attempting to foreground the material properties of his medium, painting, since he switched from figuration to abstraction almost twenty years ago. More recently he has united color, support and ground through working directly with colored fabrics, which he originally began collecting in markets in Asia because he liked the colors. In a New York Times review, the late Painter John McLaughlin was quoted as saying, “I want to communicate only to the extent that the painting will serve to induce or intensify the viewer’s natural desire for contemplation without the benefit of a guiding principle.” - Joe Fyfe

Look ahead with Stephanie Buhmann, THE VILLAGER (April, 2010)

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