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August Issue 2006
The Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, NC, Offers Exhibit on New York Paintings
The Weatherspoon Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC, will be the premiere venue for the exhibition, High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975. The exhibition, organized and circulated by iCI (Independent Curators International), New York, will be on view from Aug. 6 through Oct. 15, 2006.
In the late 1960s the New York art world was, famously, an exciting place to be. New mediums such as performance and video art were developing, and sculpture was quickly expanding in many different directions. Recapturing the liveliness and urgency of this important moment, High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975 delves into the field of experimental abstract painting at a time when it was beginning to be pressed to its limits.
Organized and circulated by iCI and curated by Katy Siegel with David Reed as advisor, the exhibition brings together over forty works by thirty-eight artists living and working in New York from 1967 to 1975.
High Times, Hard Times not only captures a tumultuous period of political and social change, but also reflects the impact of the civil rights struggle, student and anti-war activism, and the beginnings of feminism in the art world. Painting is the one element usually left out of this complex narrative, remembered only as a regressive foil to the various new mediums. But this version of the story greatly oversimplifies the situation, effacing painting that earned a place among the most experimental work of the moment, very much in sympathy with the era's radical aesthetics and politics.
The artists in this exhibition range from well-known figures like Mel Bochner, Yayoi Kusama, Elizabeth Murray, Blinky Palermo, and Richard Tuttle, to now less-familiar names such as Dan Christensen, Harmony Hammond, Ree Morton, and Alan Shields, who were extremely important at the time, as well as influential for other artists. High Times, Hard Times recovers the thrilling innovations of the period, as well as their social context. Half of the included artists are women, and many are African-American (including Al Loving, Joe Overstreet, Howardena Pindell, and Jack Whitten); these identities are not incidental but essential to grasping the possibilities of the period. (And perhaps part of the reason this painting has been left out of the history books; subsequent painting revivals have been adamantly male - as Joan Snyder complained about macho neo-expressionism's sudden revival of painting, "It wasn't 'neo' to us.") Artists from other countries who lived temporarily in New York (Yayoi Kusama, Blinky Palermo, Cesar Paternosto, and Franz Erhard Walther) similarly either were not recognized at the time or, conversely, were afterwards excluded from paintings' canonical history.
High Times, Hard Times is divided into five groups, with categories that are at once formal and chronological. Beginning with a moment of exuberant "flower power" abstraction circa 1968, these paintings are brightly colored and wildly expressive. In the central sections of the exhibition, painting comes off the wall and incorporates installation, performance, and video, embracing new artistic mediums as well as the spirit of liberation moving through the city. At the very end of the exhibition, these innovations are reincorporated into the more conventional medium of painting proper. Like the political legacy of "the 60s," these experiments never disappeared completely, but have continued to influence the way artists work and think about painting.
The works in the first group, "Spaced Out," dating from the late 1960s are large, rectangular, stretched canvases hung on the wall - a format based on conventions challenged later in this exhibition - that elicit the mood of euphoria and optimism so prevalent in the late sixties. This feeling is most clearly evoked by the psychedelic colors and optical effects of the works by Dan Christensen, Ralph Humphrey, and Kenneth Showell.
In the second grouping, "Undone,' artists begin to take painting apart. These paintings are often super-thin or made of soft unsupported cloth (Richard Tuttle, Louise Fishman, and Howardena Pindell) and some even come off the wall into the room (Al Loving and Lee Lozano), sit on the floor (Lynda Benglis), or are suspended from the ceiling (Manny Farber). The wild array of structures and formats takes liberties with the medium of painting in ways that challenge its history and expand its future.
Installation and performance art are emphasized in "All Over," the third selection of works that stretch the elastic definition of painting even further, as painters experienced the pressure and possibility of these new artforms. The artists used their bodies and the space of the gallery to incorporate the viewer into the environment of the work. These installations include large floor pieces (Mel Bochner and Dorothea Rockburne) that peel off the wall, spread out and breathe into the room; in some cases the original works will be recreated according to the artist's instructions. The performance pieces will be documented by photographs or video (Carolee Schneemann, Yayoi Kusama, and Franz Erhard Walther). Much of this art will be surprising even to scholars and critics of the period, and should elicit reappraisals of some of the lesser-known painters in this exhibition, as well as of the artists more often associated with other mediums and practices.
Film and video exerted their own pull in the early seventies; many if not most avant-garde artists experimented with these new mediums. The fourth group of works, "Interference," includes paintings that reflect this influence. Using unusual techniques including spraying, iridescence and visual interference, the surfaces of these works suggest filmic effects such as speed, flicker, and distortion (Roy Colmer, Lawrence Stafford, Michael Venezia, and Jack Whitten). Many of these painters also used film and video directly, and this section includes film and video works (Roy Colmer and Lynda Benglis) that connect with the paintings through their sense of color and movement.
No artistic culture could indefinitely sustain either the total possibility or the intense doubt of the early 1970s. By the mid-seventies, painters had returned to more traditional stretched-canvas formats, but many brought the innovations of deconstruction, performance and installation with them. In this final group, some of the work, "Bringing It All Back Home," carries with it a frankly elegiac mood (Joan Snyder), marking the end of the previous moment of limitless horizons. Other paintings are infused with bold color (Mary Heilmann), a celebration of paint's physical properties (Guy Goodwin and Elizabeth Murray), and even imagery (Pat Steir). While the exhibition's ending represents a "return' to more traditional forms of painting, it captures not only the discoveries of earlier experiments, but also the tremendous opening-up of painting in the 1970s.
High Times, Hard Times recovers a missing history and provides a broad but detailed context for the monographic surveys recently and currently circulating through major American museums, featuring artists such as Lee Lozano, Manny Farber, Joan Snyder, Elizabeth Murray, Mary Heilmann, and Richard Tuttle. The exhibition also parallels contemporary conditions: many young artists ask, as Al Loving and Richard Tuttle both did in 1968, how painting can matter in a turbulent world. The paintings in this exhibition connect our present moment to a rich and exciting past that continues to resonate today.
Artists whos works are in the exhibition include: Jo Baer, Lynda Benglis, Mel Bochner, Dan Christensen, Roy Colmer, Mary Corse, David Diao, Manny Farber, Louise Fishman, Guy Goodwin, Ron Gorchov, Harmony Hammond, Mary Heilmann, Ralph Humphrey, Jane Kaufman, Harriet Korman, Yayoi Kusama, Al Loving, Lee Lozano, Ree Morton, Elizabeth Murray, Joe Overstreet, Blinky Palermo, Cesar Paternosto, Howardena Pindell, Dorothea Rockburne, Carolee Schneemann, Alan Shields, Kenneth Showell, Joan Snyder, Lawrence Stafford, Pat Steir, Richard Tuttle, Richard Van Buren, Michael Venezia, Franz Erhard Walther, Jack Whitten and Peter Young.
Guest curator, Katy Siegel, is art history professor at Hunter College and contributing editor of Artforum, and advisor David Reed, is an artist working in New York City.
The 176-page catalogue to accompany the exhibition is co-published by iCI and D.A.P. (Distributed Art Publishers). The publication features scholarly essays by curator Katy Siegel and painter David Reed on the artistic and political context of the work. Additional essays, written by Dawoud Bey and Anna Chave, focus, respectively, on African-American and women artists in the New York art world during this period. Statements from 17 artists in the exhibition, critic Robert Pincus-Witten, and curator Marcia Tucker reflect on the art, its meaning, and the social scene of the New York art world. Color illustrations of each work in the show, along with supplementary historic photographs from the period, are also included.
For further information check our NC Institutional Gallery listings, call the Museum at 336/334-5770 or at (www.weatherspoon.uncg.edu).
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