Women in the abstract
UB’s Anderson Gallery features five diverse artists
Melissa Dadourian, Soft Weirdo Installation No. 1, 2019
Images by Nicholas Ostness. courtesy of UB’s Anderson Gallery and the artists
Through Jan. 12
UB Anderson Gallery
The catalogue for Take Five, an exhibition of contemporary abstract art now in its final days at UB Anderson Gallery, endeavors to make something of the fact that the artists are all woman. Best to ignore this: it’s a red herring. There’s nothing gender specific about the work—no Judy Chicago-style feminism, no autobiographical allusions à la Tracy Emin.
Without delving into the rise, fall, and recent rise again of women-themed exhibitions, suffice it to say that some artists—Georgia O’Keeffe for instance—express ambivalence about being viewed through the lens of gender. Such shows are meant to play “catch-up after centuries of women’s marginality and invisibility,” as artist Barbara Kruger put it, though she still sometimes declines participation in all-women exhibitions. But why mention gender at all? Just say, Take Five is a pluralistic exhibition of adept contemporary abstract artists, with innovative approaches to media. More significant than gender, each alludes to abstract painting, while simultaneously breaking with its traditions.
Meg Lipke, The Fountain, 2019
Megan Brady’s acrylic works on collaged paper and unstretched canvas adhere most closely to abstract expressionist conventions. Works like Everyday explore shape and pattern much like early Robert Motherwell collages, while her energetic colors and compositional arrangements echo contemporary fashion design. Like much of the art in the exhibition, these monumental painted collages—pinned up rather than framed—break with the traditional rectangular picture plane. Unconstrained by a prescriptive format, Brady’s works are free to spread out in seemingly improvisational ways.
Melissa Dadourian’s also patches together shapes and patterns, though her materials—thread, yarn, hand dyed fabric—might arguably be associated with women’s domestic handicrafts. Dadourian’s process alludes to this with her use of a vintage knitting machine. In practice though, her method and materials fit comfortably into today’s penchant for novelty and innovation. Dadourian’s wall-mounted works behave like abstract paintings. Like Brady, they expand beyond the rectangle format. Soft Weirdo Installation No. 1 further integrates three dimensional elements and whimsical details reminiscent of Robert Rauschenberg. Catalogue essayist Becky Brown notes that Dadourian’s fragmented layers call to mind wrinkled bedsheets and hanging laundry. Rauschenberg used real wrinkled bedsheets and hanging laundry.
Unlike the nonobjective art of the early to mid-twentieth century, which emphasized internal artistic expression, the remaining artists in the exhibition reference the external world. Tricia Knightley paints colorful illustrations of imaginary machines on stretched canvas. Looking like precision-outlined scientific diagrams, they are direct successors to the Dadaist whimsy of artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Jean Tinguely. Yet, the absolute flatness and geometric precision with which Knightley paints keeps them rooted in traditions of hard-edged abstract painting.
Tricia Knightley, 98.74.19, 2019
Meg Lipke’s work straddles the line between soft sculpture and painting. Her larger stuffed-fabric forms lean and sag against the walls, limply alluding to framed art. Within wonky rectangle boarders, other forms suggest figurative subject matter. In Garden Gates I, for instance, an irregular stuffed “frame” encloses two more fabric elements resembling a swinging gateway. The works are painted with a batik method, which in the case of Gates Garden Gates I, suggests lush vegetation.
The most conceptually and technically complex works in the exhibition belong to Adriane Colburn. She’s also the only artist who, in one instance, breaks free from the walls. Colburn uses long flat strips of ash wood, which she meticulously pinstripes or patterns with paint. The strips are steamed and bent to form arcs and curves that interlock with slotted joints. The resulting works are strongly linear, like abstract drawings in space. The wall-bound Strategic Sister looks something like a New York City subway map. Gyre Transit, on the other hand, gracefully soars, suspended by wire from the ceiling.
What sets Colburn apart is her deep dive into her arcane sources. Her works are based on maps, charts, and other methods of conceiving the natural world, from Google Earth, to sonar, to cartographic drawings. Some are based on her own research during scientific expeditions to remote places such as the arctic and amazon. Colburn says her work addresses the “complex relationship between human infrastructure, earth systems, technology, and the natural world.” Her art takes these complex relationships and adds even more intricacy, none of which is apparent without explanation.
But like all the work in Take Five, viewers can always resort to old-fashioned appreciation of the sublime.