Monday, June 15, 2009

a postcard

The other day I got a post card in the mail from SAM (Seattle Art Museum) promoting an upcoming exhibit of two collections that will run June 24 into early fall. One collection is "Remembrance" featuring the work Andrew Wyeth, the late American Realist painter (1917-2009) and the other is "Target Practice: Painting Under Attack 1949-78," a collection of Abstract pieces by various artists who sought to challenge the conventions of the painting medium.

I'm sorry, and a little embarrassed, to say I that am not familiar with the work of Andrew Wyeth. I have come to learn that he was a popular 20th C. American Realist who died in January of this year and whose work was known for its sepia, muted brown, blue and green New England scenes, seascapes and people. His work is considered by critics as "Regionalist" for its selection of these colors and subjects, by which they mean boring, unoriginal, quaint and drab. Others find true genius and beauty in his work, suggesting Wyeth's work possesses a surprising complexity; what at first seems simplistic is merely constrained genius and talent. Noting that the artist restricted himself to painting subjects in his native New England and refused to use oil (opting for what some would say is the more difficult medium of water and the unusual medium of egg tempera), they suggest the artist's creative genius lay in the fact that he conveyed emotional richness and complexity within self-imposed creative constraints. To remove those constraints would have altered and depreciated the essence of his art.

"Target Practice: Painting Under Attack 1949-78" on the other hand, is essentially about throwing off all artistic constraints. We learn from the blurb on SAM's website that this art was produced as a part of a phenomenon "that occurred in all parts of the world, and the exhibition documents why artists felt compelled to shoot, rip, tear, burn, erase, nail, unzip and deconstruct painting in order to usher in a new way of thinking." Yes, you read right: rip, tear, burn, erase...

If the picture on the promotional post card is any indication (a depiction of an artist painting his own face, literally), the exhibit will be eye opening, if nothing else. I tend not to favor the deconstructive impetus (and that's putting it euphemistically), but I am eager to learn of the movement's history, particularly its end. In my experience deconstructive movements are short lived since they must leech off a positive affirmation. What happens when there's nothing more to deconstruct (to rip, tear, burn, erase...)? Was the movement's "negative" purpose achieved in some way that has altered art? Hmmm. Maybe this would describe how the much-awarded-lauded-gifted Andrew Wyeth is regarded in some critical circles to be an illustrator rather than a true artist? He didin't rip, tear, burn, erase...anything.

At any rate, viewing these collections together will be interesting, to say the least. Not only are the two exhibits contemporaneous, and therefore comparing them is not chronologically contrived, but most things about the exhibits directly counter one another, from mode, to purpose to medium, to message/s. Although I have my pre-understandings of what I will and will not enjoy from art in general and this exhibit in specific, I'm willing to be suprised. We'll see.


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