Wednesday, August 15, 2012

‘Signs & Symbols’ and “Space Light Art - A Film Environment’

Drawn from the comprehensive holdings of paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, and photographs in possession of the Whitney Museum of American Art, ‘Signs & Symbols’ sheds interesting new light on the development and evolution of American abstraction during the extremely critical postwar period of the mid-1940s until the end of the 1950s.

An accompanying note elaborates: “Many artists active in this period often overlooked - Will Barnet, Charles Seliger, Mark Tobey, and Forrest Bess, among others - developed abstract works that remain distinct from many of the concerns that were associated with the canonized Abstract Expressionists, incorporating large-scale canvases as well as gestural brushwork.

Instead, as the write-up adds, the exhibit has on offer a more nuanced narrative, which is focused on the figurative and calligraphic ‘signs and symbols’ evident in much of the highly controlled artworks from this time period and included in the show. In many of the cases, the inspiration was drawn from specifically American sources, seeking to foster a national aesthetic quite distinct from European Surrealism and even Cubism.

These investigations formed a key foundation for a following generation of artists - including Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns - who later chose to incorporate highly individualized systems of signs into their work while sticking to distinctly American subject matter. ‘Signs & Symbols’ is organized by Donna De Salvo, the museum’s chief curator.

Simultaneously, another ongoing show includes one of the first multimedia projections made: ‘Oskar Fischinger’s Raumlichtkunst (Space Light Art)’, a re-creation of his multiple-screen film events, first shown in Germany in 1926, and recently restored Los Angeles-based Center for Visual Music. Radical in format, its display of abstract shapes and colors produces, according to Fischinger, ‘an intoxication by light from a thousand sources.’ Another exhibition to watch out for at the museum is Yayoi Kusama’s depictions of seemingly endless space, a focal point of her artistic career.

Her ‘Fireflies on the Water’ (2002)- with its carefully constructed environment of lights, mirrors, and water - is a great example of this kind of installation, a work in the Whitney’s collection, is being shown through September 30, 2012.

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