Boston University Art Gallery

February 28, 2010

in Museums and Galleries

The Shape of Abstraction
February 5, 2010 – March 28, 2010

Given everything else that pictorial and sculptural abstraction take away, one hopes that shape remains. Thus the title of the show is something of a mystery. But, when I went through it, I got the basic idea: elemental geometrical forms and patterns are the theme, leaving aside everything that has anything to do with gesture and expressionism. The result is cool and extremely Apollonian, seasoned lightly with intermittent humorous touches.

Ellsworth Kelly’s 18 Colors (1979-1982) is a grid of colored squares. Though I could not discern a pattern in their relationship, I did notice that they were all different and were appealingly vivid. I am not sure what drove Kelly to produce this kind of array, or the other sorts of hard-edged, bright color, displays with which he experiments, but he appears to have made a strong impression on a lot of people by doing so. Blue and Green Over Orange (1964-1965) is a lithograph with a blue rectangle and a light green egg on a red-orange background. The color scheme reminded me of Robert Indiana’s famous rectangular LOVE design (1967) in red letters over a green and blue background, but without the warmth of the message. Nevertheless, measuring the degree of Kelly’s success leads one to believe that his simple, unpronounced forms in bright colors speak volumes to those who gaze starkly upon them. Orange Over Green (1964-1965) is a lithograph of a squashed orange arrow over a pale green background – as though to direct one to keep walking on towards the print to the left.

Louise Bourgeois, Ode a l’Oubil (2004), is a big array of quilt-like pieces, each of which has some kind of geometrical pattern on it, except for the two which just have words, declaring: I had a flashback of something that never existed and The Return of the Repressed.. None of the pictorial elements particularly brings these themes to mind, but it is sort of interesting to entertain these disparate notations in between looking at the varied elements of the grid. Overall the visual elements have a nice colorful and geometric effect which counteracts the philosophical burden set forth by the two epigrams.

Hermelindo Flaminghi, Estrudo/GH (1950), offers a study in circles and angles with touches of yellow, grey and black – nothing revolutionary – but it seems to work pretty well. Progressao de Triangulos II (1955/1978) is another playfully geometrical treatment in orange, gray and white, equally capable, in spatial intrigue, of slowing the gaze, and the pace, past less intriguing ventures. I did not know of Flaminghi’s work, but it struck me as interesting to include this Brazilian artist in the lineup; it was nice to see titles in Portuguese.

Josef Albers, Portal to Green (1969) and Study for Homage to the Square (1959), offer blank hierarchies of rectangles in pale green and dull yellow with grey echoes. Albers’ studies on squares in a seemingly endless variety of tones is a noted series of works in geometrical abstraction, so it is no small wonder an example would be included here. It is reassuring to note that, in the succeeding stages of his enterprise, Albers found more endearing colors with which to improvise. Structured Constellation (1958), a few works down, is a spatial drawing on graph paper which creates a curious sense of depth and exploration, and, with this more playful and improvisational work, I found myself drawn in more persuasively than with the pale green and dull yellow studies.

Thomas Nozkowski, Untitled (8-15), provides an amorphous form embellished with multicolored diamond geometries, suggesting a robust nude with harlequin decorations, unexpectedly erotic and playful in its distant reference.

Allan McCollum, Collection of 15 Drawings (1988/1990), is an array of black silhouettes in variation. They have a nice balance and rhythm to them and the piece keeps the eye moving by requiring one to note that, despite the similarity of some of the forms, they are all different. Entertaining, with a lure to a quality-control type of attention.

Richard Artschwager, Four Approximate Objects (1970-1979) – what is going on with these artists during these many interim years, I wonder – shows a shiny (chrome plated) steel egg, cone, cylinder and a flattened sphere in a nicely constructed, felt-lined, wooden box that is perched open. The big question is – does the box close with these things in it? This does create a sense of drama and unanswered anticipation. As well: what would it be like to close it and have these four shiny things locked, unseen, inside? These questions longingly reach over to the existentialist quilt across the room as it still wonders about that flashback that never existed.

Sol LeWitt, Untitled (1971), is a curious etching of lines in various grids, exemplifying that early motif of his (which can be witnessed in epic proportions, across many rooms, for the next several decades, at Mass MOCA in North Adams, MA, a veritable Temple of LeWitt, a couple hours from Boston). Untitled (1990) in gouache poses a cube in red and purple hovering on a brown background, like a Rothko that has been sent to its room and told to shape up.

Tony Smith, Duck (1971), is an indoor maquette in black, a quaint abstraction in oblique geometries that, in stark abbreviation, actually does call a duck to mind. The simplicity of this form is a pleasant abbreviation that speaks volumes, quietly and evocatively, reminding one, with a whisper in the ear, of the ancestry of formal abstraction.

On the way out of the building, in the lobby, beyond the range of the gallery itself, I encountered three large untitled and unattributed oil paintings, presumably by a student, or by some unnamed group of students. They were lovely. Right by the door is a portrait of a girl in a colorful bikini, a nice play of elongated rectangles composing the outlines of the abstracted garment on the underlying form, all place within the entertainment of an exuberant landscape. Across from it, a large oil of a dazed diva with a purple and magenta bouquet calls vividly to mind the mixture of emotions attending the art of performance. In the next room, I was greeted by another large oil of a dark woman with a fixed gaze and a colorful dress that hints as a canvas wrapped around her – wittily, as she stands astride an artist’s work table. Here, the self-reference is joyfully pictorial, wordless, and only touchingly existentialist. Finally, in a more fatalistic, but still humorously existential, mode, is an oil of a woman trying to extract a suitcase from the middle of an enormous toppling pile of suitcases. It held me in suspense, wondering how she would ever manage, and made me wonder whether she would ever be able to go into the Shape of Abstraction exhibit and get sympathy from looking at the form-filled box that threatens never to close.

Exhibit Info

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: