At the Museum: Contemporary Art from the Collection
by Jill R. Chancey, PhD
This summer, the LRMA Stairwell Gallery holds a selection of contemporary artworks from the Museum’s permanent collection. The exhibition features thirteen works by: six Southern artists; six women and six men; one Native American artist; one African-American artist; and ten European-American artists. The media used include birch plywood, aluminum, canvas, oil paint, acrylic paint, serigraph, lithograph, collage, etching, gouache, and pencil. What could these thirteen works possibly have in common? As a matter of fact, quite a lot. Each of these artworks is a response to the dominant mid-twentieth-century style, Abstract Expressionism.
Abstract Expressionism, as it originated in New York City, emphasizes improvisation, expression, gesture, color, line, emotion, nature and spontaneity. Abstract Expressionist artists rejected representation in painting: there are no representations of literature, religion, politics, poetry, narrative, landscape, seascape, or portraiture. Each artist who rejected these elements in painting sought to develop a new language of art-making, one that is individual, soul-deep, powerfully emotional, and possibly even sublime.
Several of the artists in the Stairwell Gallery began working in the 1950s during the heyday of Abstract Expressionism. Robert Motherwell, Adolph Gottlieb, Helen Frankenthaler, and Grace Hartigan were all early participants in the movement. Although each of these artists is best known for their paintings, they are represented in the Museum’s collection by prints. One, Grace Hartigan’s “Pallas Athene”, is a recent museum acquisition. The LRMA Guild of Docents and Volunteers provided funds for the purchase of this mulit-color lithograph, one of very few that Hartigan has produced in her career. The title refers to one of several names for the Classical Greek goddess Athena, the patron goddess of the city of Athens, of warfare, and of wisdom and learning. The print is, however, completely abstract, a meditation on the emotions invoked by the story and attributes of Athena.
Other artists built on the abstract developments of the New York School; these include Sam Gilliam (a Mississippi native); Ida Kohlmeyer (a native of New Orleans); and Sonia Sekula. Their formal explorations of the emotional impact of color, form, line, scale, and space was inspired by those first pioneers in the movement. Another recent acquisition, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith’s “Flathead Warshirt,” combines the spontaneous gesture of early abstraction with collage. The collage technique, invented by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in the early 20th century, has been used with great skill and creativity by Robert Rauschenberg, for example. Quick-to-See Smith combines collage and painting to explore the contemporary meaning of a native “warshirt,” except the “war” is not so much a military mission as a struggle for cultural survival in a culture that does not necessarily understand or welcome Native American cultural ideas and traditions.
These works will remain on view in the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art Stairwell Gallery through September 2, 2007. Be sure and stop in on your way to see “Linda McCartney’s Sixties: Portrait of an Era.”
The Lauren Rogers Museum of Art is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. and on Sunday from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. For information about LRMA exhibitions and programs, call (601) 649-6374 or check our website at www.LRMA.org.