Saturday, September 28, 2013

Yes, No, Maybe: Artists Working at Crown Point Press

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building, Ground Floor

When: through January 5, 2014

This is an exhibit about the long slog, the terribly hard work that goes into making a work of art.  In case you thought that artists just woke up one day with an idea fully formed in their head for a great work of art, think again.  There's a vast deal of trial and error that goes into the creative process.  Inspiration is a factor, but perspiration is a given.  This show pulls back the curtain on the process, and lets the viewer seeing the workings behind the work.

Crown Point Press was one of the most influential printmaking studios of the late 20th century.  The works on display here were created between 1972 and 2010.  The first three rooms focus on the work of three particular artists; the final two rooms cover the work of many artists who were influenced by the first three.

The first room is devoted to the work of Chuck Close.  He set limits and restrictions on the work he would do, which he found gave him a kind of freedom.  It seems contradictory, but I understand what he means.  Sometimes, when you have unlimited choices, you become paralyzed.  You are unable to choose, which means you are trapped by your own indecision.  If you limit your options, you are then able to choose, able to work freely, within the constraints you've set.  His work involved pictures of heads - those of his friends and family and his own head.  A self-portrait is in the room, and I know I've seen it before, but where?  Perhaps it was in another show I saw at some point, or maybe it was on a website I visited.  I've been wracking my brain, but to no avail.  The perils of middle age...

Richard Diebenkorn, the focus of the second room, sets his course for "rightness," which I'm interpreting as a sort of "I'll know it when I see it" model.  He works in an incremental way on his pictures, until they are exactly to his liking.  It's interesting to see the changes he makes along the way to what's "right," although I confess there were points at which I might have made different choices.

The third room is devoted to the "art" of John Cage, who I've seen before and not liked.  This display does nothing to change my opinion.  He relies on chance, making no choices in his art, but allowing various outside influences, including the I Ching, to make the choices for him.  Please.  It's as if he wants to take no responsibility for his work; everything is the result of some other force.  You might just as well have a robot put paint to paper according to a computer program.  Note that he also "composes" music that consists of total silence.  Again.  Please.  I did find out that the works I'd always thought of as rings from a coffee cup are actually from a teapot, so I can't say I didn't learn anything.

Next we have a room entitled "Echoes," works by other artists that are reminiscent of or influenced by the first three artists.  One work, by Anne Appleby, with its squares of color, reminded me more of Ellsworth Kelly than of any of the work I'd just seen.

Finally,  the last room focuses on the title of the show: Yes, No, Maybe.  Some are things that worked, some are things that didn't and were abandoned and some are things that were never really resolved - where the journey is the destination.

Verdict: An interesting show, if you like to see what's going on behind the scenes.  If you don't care for John Cage, you can just skip his room entirely; there's nothing here that's going to make you sit up and take notice.

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