United Nations Exhibition, 1999Takako Araki
Enrico Baj
Will Barnet
Louise Bourgeois
Eric Bowen
Nassos Daphnis
Johann Eyfells
Gordon Onslow Ford
Rosalie Gascoigne
Gunther Gerzso
Beatriz Gonzalez
Marcia Hafif
Samia Halaby
Carmen Herrera
Robert Hodgins
Patrick Ireland
Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq
Ilya kabakov

 

 

Ken Kiff
Pavel Koichev
Karel Malich
Iba Ndiaye
Kenneth Noland
John Olsen
Philip Pavia
Otto Piene
George Rickey
Betye Saar
Esphyr Slobadkina
Juan Soriano
Jesus Rafael Soto
Esteban Vicente
Ming Wang
Inson Wongsam
Yang Yanping

Introduction

In his statement for this catalog lba Ndiaye specifies the mixed culture of modernity. He identifies the versatile ability of modern culture to absorb influence and incorporate change. This constantly expanding web of influence is expressed in various ways by the artists in this exhibition who, by birth or residency, represent a global view of recent artistic production. The mixture of abstraction and figuration assembled here reflects the variegated character of modern art. Modern artists disturb the conventions of complacency that influence our perceptions through the oblique perspectives they impose upon the world of the senses.

Louise Bourgeois' gigantic bronze spider is both menacing and subdued. The associations provoked by spiders are as manifold as the intricate webs they weave. Here, held motionless in its metal incarnation, the spider's threat is tempered by a certain spindly vulnerability. Another bronze sculpture is the dove by Juan Soriano. The dense mass and puffed up bearing of the larger than life form reflect the poetic weight this bird has accumulated in the artist's imagination.

Modern artists often transform accepted notions of reality by means of the fluid processes of aesthetic perception. Nevertheless, it is rare to encounter a sentimental representation of an idealized world in contemporary art. In this exhibition Ilya Kabakov turns a painting combining images of happy people and a picturesque scene into a dining table. This commentary on misplaced optimism also indicates a specific functionality appropriate to decorative painting. Throughout this century artists have incorporated bits and pieces of the world into their art. Enrico Baj places three tree trunks that are pierced with steel files on a pool of black sand. They are surmounted by the heads of stick brooms, which create an ambiguous identity that is suggestive of figure and object as well as tree. Amusing as well as unsettling, they have an ominous presence. A more benign energy animates the relief collage made by Betye Saar. The regular pattern of warm colors over sensual textures unifies the assemblage into a potent repository for symbolic objects of personal significance. The innate balance of an ideal geometric form is highlighted in the combination of precision and grace that George Rickey invests in making a steel cube. Mounted at an angle, the cube plays counterpoint to the curving rhythms of its polychrome surface.

Each of the three paintings of flowers in this exhibition is the result of very different procedures. Yang Yanping uses inks to paint the luscious bloom of lotus flowers. This expansive image underscores the immediacy of their fragile beauty, yet uncovers an almost volatile character of imminent change. Rosalie Gascoigne uses an alternative approach as she builds an image of black tulips. The wooden panels present an image that is at once fractured and unified. Her work conveys a sense of time suspended between Processes of growth and decay. Otto Piene's red flower emerges from the accumulated effects of a trail of splashes and drips left by the rapid movement of a brush and the scorched traces of flames directed at the painted canvas. Here, the process is emphasized as we recognize the artist's actions in our recovery of his creation of a flower.

Sometimes artists use easily recognized cultural elements as a starting point for new art forms. Takako Araki, for instance, transforms the Bible into a clay object that serves as a vehicle for memories and associations. The object appears stressed from usage and like a reliquary, it seems to harbor the accumulated devotion of the faithful. Another example of the way art changes the familiar through appropriation is Edphyr Slobodkina's translation of a painted portrait into three-dimensions. She invests the benign familiarity of a doll with the formidable personality of a Velazquez portrait.

Artists who choose to make paintings with no direct reference to objects in the world often exercise restraint in their choice of compositional elements. Marcia Hafif, for example, methodically applies only two colors to the canvas. Despite this systematic attention to the material process, the painted surface appears to dissolve in the immateriality of a luminescent veil. Other artists emphasize the physical properties of a painted image. Carmen Herrera applies three wide blue lines against a white ground. She creates a tension in this hard-edged composition in which the white spacing aggressively asserts its geometric identity. At the right edge the blue wraps around the thick sides of the canvas and underscores the solidity of the object. This attention to the perception of the painting as a unified whole, devoid of the hierarchical structure of background and foreground, represents an aesthetic experience grounded in the immediacy of perception. In perhaps a similar way, Kenneth Noland, by attaching a disk of translucent acrylic paint to the center of his canvas, effects a literal representation of the way his colored bands seem to hover above the surface.

The red and white ovoid shapes in Nassos Daphnis' painting emerge from the upper left of an expansive blue background. The pictorial energy stems from a contradictory space that refers to both an illusionistic, shallow plane, and the flatness of the surface. Such complicated and contradictory spaces brought about by the simple mechanics of paint and canvas are evident throughout this exhibition. In the work of Patrick Ireland vibrant colors and a geometric design combine to make a restless image, which nevertheless, has an emblematic quality. A play between illusory and real space characterizes the relief construction of Jesus Raphael Soto. lie suspends an array of steel blades below a painted blue square. The ghostly lines that appear in the Work seem to hover in a deep blue space. The stained image in Johann Eyfells' hanging veils records the marks left when an object is pressed into the material. When the layers of fabric are separated, the image is opened into cross-sections which indicate the three-dimensional character of the object.

Imagination may be reflected in images and also in what we perceive to be the particular temper of pictorial space. In the Karel Malich pastel, a circular form set against an intense blue suggests an ethereal projection of cosmic amplitude. Celestial infinity is also evoked by the play of light and dark tones in Gordon Onslow Ford's painting. Black and white ciphers painted on the surface appear to be suspended in the nebulous atmosphere. In Esteban Vicente's painting there is no identifiable image, however, the lyrical combination of flowing colors suggests a reflection of the emotional space which gives texture to our perception of the external world. Ming Wang stretches our vision across the three parts of his wide work on paper. At the center a deep red circle is wrapped in black and surrounded by alternating disks and squiggles of black ink. The regularity of this form is a resolution between the contradictory impulses of color and darkness, openness and obscurity suggested in the two adjacent configurations. There is a meditative quality to the play of somber color surrounding a lambent core in Eric Bowen's construction. A painted wooden frame houses a room-like space which appears to be illuminated by the evanescent light that emanates from the central panels of gold leaf.

The small, similarly shaped and colored units that Samia Halaby distributes across her painting suggest glimpses of natural processes. The passages of flickering light coalesce into patterns that indicate an affinity with the fractal geometry produced in the pools and eddies of moving water. Another artist whose paintings refer to nature is Gunther Gerzso. He makes hard-edge compositions that correspond to the way landscape unfolds before our field of vision. Bright light seems to emanate from his angular shapes in the same way that sharp sunlight bounces from desert rocks.

The figurative paintings in this exhibition are not literal transcriptions of the observable world. Will Barnet conjures a recognizable image with subdued tones that conveys a melancholy atmosphere. A poignant story unfolds in the way tile introspective figure turns and holds her hand to her face. Similarly enigmatic is Beatriz Gonzolez's image of a floating man in a suit. His yellow face and closed eyes indicate a dead man, immune to the charm of two rabbits sitting in the foreground behind the dark funereal curtains. The figures in Ken Kiff’s painting are loosely defined in layers of thick encaustic paint. Through the dense surface, an eerie light establishes a dreamlike atmosphere as it illuminates a mythic setting of a cave beside a stream. The sensation of an unworldly apparition also emerges from the fractured light in Kamala Ishaq's painting. Here, sinuous leaves circulate around spherical shapes and coalesce into ghostly faces.

A warm light animates the faces and instruments in lba Ndiaye's painting of jazz musicians. This image is both painterly arid linear and its vigorous energy evokes the exciting conjunction of voice and instrument. There is an appropriately splodgy quality to the tactile way Robert Hodgins paints school children. They have wary expressions and cast long shadows into an empty space that is bounded along the top by a red wall with a closed gate.

In recent decades, numerous sophisticated technologies have been widely accepted as viable means of artistic expression. However, some sculptors still prefer to Chip and carve away at Taw, natural materials. Philip Pavia assembles black and white marble blocks which have already been inflected by chips and cuts on their surfaces. Despite the rigid character of stone, Pavia's composition is endowed with a supple rhythm. Rudimentary materials such as wood and beeswax are used in Pavel Koichev's constructions. These quasi-architectural forms are in fact models for much larger outdoor sculptures which blend into the natural environment. Taken directly from nature, the dried banana skins John Olsen attaches to a sheet of plywood are removed from the organic processes of decay. Instead, they are recycled as elements in a large assemblage in which the linear qualities of the banana skins take on the graphic character of a written language. The wooden sculpture by Inson Wongsam assumes many guises. The skillful carving of a repeated motif along a cylindrical spine in this piece creates a form that has both mechanical and organic qualities.

The heterogeneous nature of modem art is evident in the confluence of vastly different aesthetic sensibilities assembled in this exhibition. The artists' choice of subjects and the materials they work with are informed by the depth of their accumulated experience. The biological metaphor of growth and decay does not apply to the creativity of these mature artists. Rather, it might be said that the fertile atmosphere of the studio maintains the ripeness of their imagination.

Gerard McCarthy

United Nations Exhibition, 1999Enlightening clues to the unraveling of the latent aspects of visual forces can be abstracted from the title of the art-work ... "Ghost Encounters". Here the well known cliché "What you see is what you see" loses its literal significance. As a matter of fact, through a serious viewing of the "Ghost Encounters" perhaps the exact opposite of the above statement becomes true -- the hidden content of the folded "in-between" spaces of the work insists on being taken into critical evaluation.

Ghost Encounters 1, 1992 Mixed media on fabric 90 x 90 inches
(depth variable) Courtesy of the artist