“Millennial Abstractions” is an expansive exhibition featuring approximately 80 works. It is always refreshing to see work out of a gallery, and viewing art in the not-for-profit philanthropic organization of the Marin Community Foundation headquarters carries a particular charge. What does it mean to view art that is in a socially conscious philanthropic setting? Is that any different than a museum; aren’t museums socially conscious philanthropic settings? The mission statement on the wall of the Foundation office reception area reads: ” …to improve the human condition, embrace diversity, promote humane and democratic society and enhance the community’s quality of life, now and for future generations”. Underneath the mission statement is a complex sculpture by David McDonald entitled, “Ikata”. The life-size sculpture is assembled with several stacks of brightly colored wood on top of an askew organic shape that reminds me of cargo containers precariously stacked atop an island – a small abstract vessel also made of wood is tethered to the shore of the island by a chain. The piece seems to be emblematic of a desired outcome for viewing the work as a curated collection in this space.
The departure point in the statement for the exhibition crutches on the heels of 9/11 with a caveat that the work seen here “is more vibrant and evocative than abstractions we have seen in the past. The artists’ choice of color, form, shapes, and mark making are transformational and inspiring in the deepest sense.” To me this statement is generic and places the work within an archaic affiliation of primal gestures and formal aesthetics, yet it is perfectly clear to me that there is something much more cerebral happening with this work when viewed through the lens of the Foundation office. I cross the impressive cat-walk toward Val Britton’s large mixed media layered piece.
The asymmetrical nucleus of the piece is a nebulous composition of beige, pale aqua and black intricately cut and layered organic shapes in a field of pale cream colored paper bursting with smaller planetary-like elements hovering around it. Upon closer inspection the smaller elements are recognizable as cut-out silhouettes of highway signs. Linked by delicate yet purposeful white, grey and graphite lines, the signs become indicators of a conceptual mapping in this ambiguous landscape. It is hard to tell if this map is terrestrial or celestial – appearing sometimes as a road map, and other times reminiscent of a sky scape looking down through clouds or perhaps a nautical navigation chart with water masses. Perforations in the surface further reiterate the poetic strangeness of this portrayed locale by their removal of information which simultaneously implicates the wall into the geography; the title of the piece, “Impossible Boundaries” implies a non-commitment to any particular place, but rather one in which the mind can wander. In comparison, Chris Duncan’s sculpture entitled, “Eye-Dentity” (which also has perforations) actually does locate the viewer within the actual architecture and surrounding landscape of the space in many curious ways.
Duncan’s sculpture is a topographical face mask comprised of what appear to be peeled pieces of dried acrylic paint that are applied to the surface. Already the configuration is confusing, because usually the colored portion of a mask faces away from the wearer so that he or she may assume alternate personae – but in this case, we are looking at the mask permanently affixed to the stand at the same time that we can look through the holes for eyes. What is stranger, the piece is oriented in such a way that the other side is viewable, so in making my way around the sculpture, I was delighted to see a mirror reflecting the landscape back to me from the picture window where the piece is installed. Even more bizarre was to have my friend put his eyes on the other side of the sculpture so that I could align my face in the mirror with his eyes looking through. The un-nerving doubling of us in the mirror created a carnival-esque strangeness that made me more aware of myself. Reminded of this, I had to continue through the space, as there was a lot more art to see.
Throughout the space there are paintings hung in practical areas, such as meeting rooms, and in common walkway paths or along walls that conjoin boardrooms with cubby areas or private offices with the sunny break room. People were working here and there, and it was very quiet – no one spoke that I could hear. Two pieces in particular intrigued me for the titles that imply the presence of a person. Ruth Trotter’s “Baby” and Christopher Kuhn’s “Party Favor” are hung along a wall near a common area that had a printer waiting to be used and loaded with letterhead envelopes. Unlike Duncan’s mask piece that simultaneously dislocates and locates the viewer in the space, these pieces indicate everyday life occurrences of co-workers. Kuhn’s smeary grey canvas is reminiscent of the morning after a crazed retirement party –those who usually type quietly away at keys and respectfully share ideas in board meetings have let loose – confetti scattered on the asphalt of the parking lot baking in the afternoon sun where a colleague spilled champagne. Trotter’s “Baby” is a colorful sending-off of a baby shower: cheerful pinks, oranges, pale sage, crisp sky blue and other clean and fresh colors in thick impasto appear hopeful. I started to become overwhelmed by the variety of works and all of various caricatures that my mind was imagining.
In keeping with the figurative thread, the painting by April Street, “Kai and Tammy do Giverny” is a large wash of subdued texture that placates a blurry memory of a vacation. Across from it are two works by Gina Stepaniuk: “Heart of the Matter” implies that the viewer could take the larger implications of our interactions with the landscape into greater consideration; “Becoming Nothing” remarks upon the contemplative moments of pause that are so necessary in the chaotic doldrums of work. In both of Stepaniuk’s work the entire picture plane is comprised of small intermingled shapes, swirls and over-arching, soft swaths of milky glazes flecked with dashes of contrasting colors underneath. The two pieces are hung side-by-side, not exactly a diptych although very close to each other as if they should be in conversation. In a sense, it is really not so much what the work is showing, but what the work says to the viewer.
Consistent throughout the work in this exhibition is an overarching theme that ultimately remarks upon the necessity for viewing the work as a vehicle for communicating. Seen through the lens of where this work is presented at the Marin Community Foundation, of paramount consideration is what we can ultimately contribute to the environment through the actions and decisions we make. The exhibition is on view until May 31 and is open to the public.
Full list of artists in the exhibition: Kim Anno, Judith Belzer, Val Britton, Chris Duncan, Samantha Fields, Sherie Franssen, Justine Frishmann, Benecia Gantner, Christopher Kuhn, David McDonald, Yvette Molina, Blandine Saint-Oyant, Julia Schwartz, Ali Smith, Gina Stepaniuk, April Street, Marie Thibeault, Sylvia Tidwell, Catherine Tirr, Cassandra Tondro, Ruth Trotter, Adam Wolpert.
This exhibition was curated by Patricia Watts, independent curator and founder of ecoartspace.
-Contributed by Leora Lutz