MODERNISM, BEAUTY, AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE — These concepts are very much alive with my students. Fourteen of them chose to submit their art for this online exhibition. The students have worked with me for various amounts of time, from years to months. One journeyed from Germany every summer to attend.
All of the pictures exhibited are modernist. Which means they celebrate the elements of painting: flatness, color, shape, and medium. There was, in fact, never any reason to believe modernism in painting and sculpture had ended; “was dead” as some of the art world claimed. (People have spoken of the death of modernism for sixty years.) In this scenario it was supplanted by postmodernism. What’s amusing is that unlike modernism, postmodernism is hard to pin down. So many things thrown into the pile; from pop to performance, from conceptual art to political art. Initially championed by that showman Andy Warhol, it was questionable to begin with.
At the same time a few holdout art critics and artists, myself included, believed postmodernism was just another name for bad art. Everything that failed as art-qua-art fell into that category. Following postmodernism meant breaking with the seven-hundred-year tradition of painting and sculpture, as well as eliminating standards. Coming at the tail end of abstract expressionism, which embraced modernism, pop art, with its insider jokes and puns, couldn’t compete.
All great art has the element of surprise built into it. And it is this which continues to delight the eye. With shock value, once you get the inside joke, it’s over. How could a comic book image by Roy Lichtenstein compete with the majesty of Jackson Pollock’s best pictures — for example, Autumn Rhythm? There is still now more to do and discover in modernism.
It’s been wonderful teaching painting students at The League about color, space, and feeling in painting. Concerns which are opposite what many art students are learning elsewhere. As the writer and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips recently wrote, “For the artist the contemporary question has become, “how can I make myself worth investing in?”
Yasser Sabra uses rich color, all-overness, and rhythm to create lush and seductive paintings that pleasure the eye. In Filtered View, with different sized and colored dabs of paint, he creates patterns similar to neon lights, or jazz. Evan Schwartz has developed a pure paint handling which allows him to present his delicate and precise color sensibility in highly focused compositions that emphasize color. Marcie Bronkar is drawn to exotic shapes and textures. In Composition No. 18 we see unusual juxtapositions of color and form. She also explores transparency to good effect. Janet Dunson’s pictures are funny, jazzy and often aggressive, at times with a bluntness that almost asks the viewer to challenge her. As in the painting, Night Sky. Over several years Linda Krieg has developed a unique way of working with acrylic paint — thin, translucent and layered. Her intense connection with the medium has brought about wholly fresh paintings, for instance Wings of the Dove. Sung Gross’s paintings have to do with movement, and repetition. By taking a wave or curve and repeating it several times, her paintings often have the feel of echoes. Paul Ganteaume is adventurous—shifting to different approaches when he chooses to, but not diminishing his standards. In Untitled #3 there is a delicacy and economy of means, along with feeling. In some of Zohra Lampert’s work, her paint handling and stream-of-conscious delivery give the illusion that the picture is happening while you watch. In his art, Mike Levine moves between figuration and abstraction. His pictures go from raw energy to pathos: Fran, with its European sensibility, falls into the latter category. Shoshana Pofelis has a scientific approach to painting. Turning her colored shapes in different directions she works experimentally. In 4X+4X her colors and musical quality hark back to Stuart Davis. René Rodriguez works with pattern and repetition to create rich figure/ground relations. Untitled #2 is expertly all-over—and hints rather than states. In her brilliant figure drawings Eileen Dalessio shows wit, insight, skill, and economy of means. Proving that this kind of drawing, think Hockney and Alice Neel, is still very much alive. Maxine Frankel, newer to the group, has done some exciting abstract paintings in which she was able to express “a unique temperament,” to use Oscar Wilde’s phrase. “A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament.” Roger Hsai’s pictures take chances, and pursues the unexpected. Some, like Usual Meeting Place, combine calligraphy with a suggestion of urban landscape. Lee Shepherd’s pictures often court that edge between harmony and chaos. And challenge taste. In Containment he created black bars to control the chaos. With an off-beat color sense Kim Winkler who travelled from Germany to attend the class, moves comfortably between figuration and abstraction. In her more rectangular work she seems to be tipping her hat to the great German-American painter Hans Hofmann.
With luck our class exhibition will be back in the Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery in 2021.