“Non Objective": Reception At Telluride Gallery, 12/29

The Telluride Gallery of Fine Art’s “Non Objective” show, December 14, 2017 – January 14, 2018, bookends the earlier “Objective,” which opened in July 2017. Both exhibitions were curated by that “impresario of abstraction,” James Hayward, artist, historian and teacher, also father of the TGFA’s new co-owner, Ashley Hayward, (with her husband Michael Goldberg).

At the reception for “Non Objective,” join in a toast to the end of the year, scheduled for Friday, December 29, 2017, 5-7 p.m. 

For a detailed press release about “Non Objective” go here.

To read the excellent catalog of the show, go here.

Go here to watch the insightful (and charming) video shorts (just over 3 minutes each) to better understand the artists. 

To whet your appetite for “Non Objective,” scroll down and watch the trailer for the show.

“Non-Objective” is dedicated to the memory of one of the artists in the show, John M. Miller, 1939-2016, who passed away during the planning stage. According to the catalog, Miller’s hard-edged, abstractions helped shape the story of Los Angeles Minimalism.

Magna on two raw canvas panels by John M. Miller. “Non Objective” is dedicated to his memory. “We are honored to have John M. Miller included in our show. You can feel the energy pulsing through this painting. The precision of his work is remarkable,” Malarie Clark, TGFA.

According to art critic-historian Robert Hughes, when America went into WWII, our country was “one power among several.” However, we emerged as a superpower, “the good half of a Manichean universe whose evil half was Soviet Russia.”

The more things change… the less they change.

By the 1950s and 1960s, Americans came to believe our global superiority encompassed, well, just about everything, including culture, an all-encompassing and persistent notion that included the supremacy of our fine art.

And, by the 1970s, it was taken for granted the center of that center was New York, as Paris had been in the 19th century and Rome in the 17th century.

What defined the “great art” that came out of the Big Apple was whatever was made in opposition to vulgar commercialism and mindless patriotism. Great art was abstract.

All well and good if you happen to live on the Right Coast.

The Left Coast, however, has its own version of the story, wrote its own chapter or two.

Daniel Mendel-Black, “Lime Tree Arbor.
“Daniel Mendel-Black blew my mind while touring his studio. He is so well versed in color theory, how structure should enhance the color relationships and color’s role as the 5th dimension. I was utterly fascinated by his two roles, that of a painter and of a master craftsman in order to create these mosaic-like canvas panels,” said Malarie Clark of TGFA.

Hunting for the very first abstract painting is like trying to find a needle in a haystack – although the Impressionists focusing on light and color unlocked the door and Cezanne walked through it. (More on that below.)

Then along came Picasso and Braque and the facets and planes of Cubism.

But ironically, it was Malevich and Kandinsky, two Russians, also Mondrian, a Dutchman, who stepped beyond the door into the brave, new world of pure abstraction. Doing so triggered an open question that stands today: What is it? What am I looking at? (More on that too.)

And, as it turned out, as the world turned, very early on Los Angeles had jumped on that bandwagon, led by Stanton MacDonald-Wright upon his return from Paris and his friend and colleague, Morgan Russell. The two artists founded Synchromism, a movement based on an approach to painting that analogized color to music. Synchromism was a legacy of Kandinsky and among the first abstract schools of painting in American art.

Stanton MacDonald-Wright, Synchromy, Blue-Green.

Curated by the irrepressible, indefatigable James Hayward, the objective of “Non Objective” is to shine a light on the West Coast legacy of abstraction. (The show’s terrific companion catalog further illuminates the creative energy and insights of West Coast abstract artists.)

English painter and art critic Roger Fry questioned whether abstract art could ever really be popular, summarizing his concerns at a lecture he gave to the Fabian Society in 1917: “In proportion as art becomes purer, the number of people to whom it appeals get less.”

And yet, to the question of what best defined 20th-century art, especially in the second half of the century, the answer would have to be abstraction. Back then, abstraction was the holy grail of the art world, shape-shifting as it did – does – from worldliness to mystical purity in the blink of an artist’s inner eye.

True enough, like serious jazz, abstract art is a many splendored, if somewhat special and refined thing. It is also clearly like a rubber tree, a hardy plant that has survived, even thrived, for over a century, all the adulation –  and the contempt  – of the art-going public, fisticuffs among critics, and the nightmares of its best practitioners wondering if they might have been better off marching to a different drum.

But not Hayward. The preeminent abstract artist, art historian and teacher, has unapologetically  and enthusiastically embraced the incessant drum beat of non-objective art-making for 74 years and counting.

James Hayward, courtesy Flaunt magazine. Hayward curated the last 2 shows at the TGFA, including “Non Objective.”

Further, Hayward contends the history of modern art does not rest solely on the shoulders of the 19th-century master Cezanne – though the painter did mess with the clear lines of conventional draftsmanship and the distinct use of color that characterized academic painting and, in so doing, undermined, then extended everyone else’s practice.

Nor do those persistent roots lie solely in the thick, slashing, maniacal brushstrokes of Van Gogh – though if you squint at a Van Gogh, up pops a Hayward.

In the catalog for the the blockbuster show at the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art, “Non Objective,” Hayward traces modern (read abstract) art and his own creative voodoo to Titian as a quavering old man and the artist’s late period from 1548 to his death at age 80 in 1576.

Between 1991-2001, at Rome’s Galleria Borghese, Hayward discovered “the deceit of control and the true beauty of paint unleashed,” adding (in the show’s catalog): “My protocols are heavily influenced by the late Titian. When he moved the emphasis to ‘marking’ over ‘rendering,’ whether consciously or not, he changed painting forever. He had de-mythicized control and in doing so, allowed paint to be paint.”

“Non Objective” is the third blockbuster show at the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art since its new owners, Ashley Hayward (yes, James Hayward’s offspring) and her husband, Michael Goldberg, took over the art space from its original owner, Will Thompson.

The Gallery’s first major exhibit was last July and featured Hayward’s highly-saturated, abstract, action paintings. An example: Hayward’s Triptych #5 below.

The second big show was curated by Hayward.

“Objective” featured the work of 12 painters from around the country, mostly Los Angeles-based, who work encompassed landscape, figurative, allegory and other representational, though often abstracted canvases.

Protection, oil on canvas, Dan McCleary.

But at their essence, stripped of labels, is “Non Objective” all that different from its predecessor, “Objective”?

The truth? No.

Historically, perceptually, objective and non-objective art have always been inseparable. All art draws our attention through its formal energy, its vibe. And, because the human brain cannot help itself, because it is hard to just be and enjoy, even abstract paintings wind up being endowed with representational quality, yes, even minimal abstractions such as those of one of the major artists in “Non Objective,” Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, who sums up that thought this way:

“My paintings work through experiences you can’t help but have as long as you’re looking at them. Color makes space whether you’d like it to or not…you can’t not experience movement while looking at a work made out of more than one color despite knowing that it’s a static object…My work is full, made out of the logic of color and the emotion that comes with it…”

Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, Grey Steps.

Like other artists in “Non Objective,” Gilbert-Rolfe favors compositions that keep the viewer’s eyes in constant motion, never to allowing them to rest on any single spot.

In other words, the work is “Non Objective” turns the old trope “what you see is what you get” on its head. The truth of abstract art, of all art, is what you get is what you see.”

“Untitled,” Kristin Beinner James. “Kristin Beinner-James is a creative powerhouse. These paintings are filled with texture; the paint is forced through the surface creating amazing dimension that has to be experienced in person. To my knowledge, her process is completely unique,” Malarie Clark of TGFA.

Hayward shuts down the false oil-and-water dichotomy between objective and non-objective in a single sentence: “All paintings possesses three basic properties: they are a shape, a surface and color.”

Pictorial communication in whatever form – signs, symbols, images and colors on a two-dimensional flat surfaces – is an old, rich human invention that started out on rocks and ceramics and remains one of the most efficient, elegant, and intimate means of self-expression and engagement.

Post Impressionism (think Seurat) is just one of many examples which strike a balance between the two approaches, objective and non-objective, to pictorial communication.

For the record, though, here are some basic definitions:

Objective art is artwork that depicts easily recognizable subject matter. It is also known as representational or figurative art.

Objective abstract art is an art form which depicts concrete physical objects in simplified, or distorted, or exaggerated form.

Non-objective (non-representational) abstract art reshapes the natural world for expressive purposes and derives from, but does not imitate a recognizable physical subject.

The artists in “Non Objective” have clearly, definitionally, dispensed with the medium’s narrative requirements, which left them space to freely explore the properties of paint as such. When they handle paint, there are no holds barred. Freed from clear representational responsibilities, paint starts behaving in gonzo, unpredictable ways. Its manipulation involves action verbs: dabs, spurt, clot, fold, and curl.

These manipulations do, however, fall into two clearly different schools – in some instances, overlapping.

Some of the works in “Non Objective” tilt towards Abstract Expressionism or action painting – think James Hayward – an approach to painting that emerged when the center of the art world shifted to the US. AbExers made gesture a god and placed their thumbprint heavily on the canvas. In an all-over painting, the artist was everywhere.

Think the “fuzzy” half of the show. An example is Hayward’s “Abstract Diptych #47.”

Other paintings in “Non Objective” lean towards minimalism, a type of abstract art characterized by extreme simplicity of form and a deliberate lack of expressive content. Like Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism emerged in the 1950s.

Perhaps more accurately, the focus of  the show is on a subset of minimalism known “post-painterly abstraction,” an approach to painting espoused by one of the preeminent critics of the ’60s, Clement Greenberg. In post-painterly abstraction, the idea is to dissolve all definition of shape and distance (or perspective). Shape is open, pigment thin, colors few and canvases generally big  – because more blue is bluer than less blue (as in when the color appears in a smaller painting). An example is Edith Bauman, “Jazz Notes #57.”

In any minimalist work, in a sense, the goal appears to be to hide the evidence of the skill of the artist – though in any great work, great skill is a given.

Minimalism of any stripe was seen as a reaction against the bold-faced emotiveness of Abstract Expressionism. The big idea is that without the diverting presence of composition and by reducing the work to highly simplified configurations, the viewer gets to have a more profound experience of the pure qualities of color, form, space and materials.

Such work is all about art for art’s sake, not for the sake of recording a familiar reality or social commentary.

Think the “hard-edged,” squeaky clean aspect of “Non Objective.” An example is “Scot Heywood, Double Edge-Red, Yellow, Blue.”

Now back to the question posed above: What is it?

What “Non Objective” really comes down to is what good art of any flavor, non-objective or objective, comes down to, what it should be able to do: capture and hold the viewers attention through the intrinsic energy of the work, making the making and the viewing a collective adventure.

For more, check out the video teaser to the show:

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Susan Viebrock

Susan Viebrock

Susan is Telluride Inside… and Out’s founder and editor-in-chief, the visionary on the team, in charge of content, concept and development. For 19+ years, Susan has covered Telluride’s cultural economy, which includes non-profits and special events. Much of her writing features high-profile individuals in the arts, entertainment, business, and politics. She is a former Citibank executive specializing in strategic planning and new business development, and a certified Viniyoga instructor.

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