Nasher Museum of Art
2001 Campus Drive, Durham
Through Aug. 30BIG, BENT EARS
409 W. Martin St., Raleigh
Through Dec. 3
Bright colors in art usually turn me off. To my eye, they obscure form. But summer, with its popsicles, swimwear and neon cocktails, always wins me over for a few months, and some current art exhibitions use that palette to dazzle the eyes while emphasizing form.
The Nasher’s COLOUR CORRECTION: BRITISH AND AMERICAN SCREENPRINTS, 1967–75 draws upon the museum’s extensive collection to document the burst of creativity when commercial processes such as screen printing were being adopted by artists on both sides of the northern Atlantic. Faster, cheaper and more precise than painting, screen printing also made it easy to create multiples and variants.
These commercial origins resonated with several art movements in the 1960s. Pop artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein were inspired by mass production. Op artists Bridget Riley and Richard Anuszkiewicz used mechanical precision to render lurid optical effects. Political artists May Stevens and R.B. Kitaj referenced mass-market forms in works based on book covers and paper dolls.
Colour Correction, divided into American and British work, is further subdivided into pop/political and abstract. The centerpiece is a large representation of theoretical work by Josef Alberswho, with his wife, Anni, taught at Black Mountain College for 16 years, after the Nazis forced them from the Bauhaus. On the U.S. side, Anuszkiewicz’s optical wonders are particularly rewarding to view from a few inches away. Fingernail-width overlaps of perfectly registered colors produce a fluttering optical phenomenon that causes them to leap out.
The British side of the show is marked by artists messing with the printed surface in a variety of ways. Liliane Lijn’s two “Koan-Cuts” stack simple, beveled cylindrical shapes into surprisingly expressive figures. Lean in close and discover that the shapes are printed separately and jigsawed tightly together. It’s a collage, not a print. William Tucker does something similar in two works that overlap a pair of pre-printed pieces to form an optical illusion of depth that’s actually borne out on the surface of the work.
Colour Correction tells a story of commerce blending with art, but it also tells another, quieter story, about the democratization of art-making. Rather than the lonely-genius model of the painter who retreats to a studio and then emerges, triumphant, with a masterpiece, printmaking is intensely collaborative, as artists work with printers who translate their work into the many screens necessary to make a composite image. The secret star of the exhibition is the Kelpra Studio that British printers Rose Kelly and Chris Prater opened in the late 1950s. More than 30 prints in the British half of Colour Correction are their handiwork.
Also notable is Chiron Press’ 1967 portfolio “Artists and Writers Protest Against the War in Viet Nam,” which lends works by five Americans to the exhibit. Carol Summers’ “Kill for Peace” puts bullet holes in a famous image of a Vietnamese mother holding her children, with a red X covering the entire image.
Elsewhere, Richard Smith’s work might be the most bizarre in the exhibition. He printed gestural abstractions onto plastic, which was then vacuum-formed into an actual three-dimensional relief. Your depth perception bends to combine the illusionistic printed subject matter with the real contours of the plastic.
Speaking of bending perception, Donald Martiny recapitulates a couple of centuries of painting in just five works in MONUMENTAL GESTURES, which closes July 1 at the Allcott Gallery in UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hanes Building (115 S. Columbia St., 919-962-2015). Allcott shows are frustratingly difficult to see outside of the opening receptionsthe unstaffed gallery gets locked within the academic building, and it’s difficult to find someone to let you in, especially on weekendsbut the lineup is excellent (Mark Iwinski opens a new show the night of July 10).
Martiny’s works look like giant, thick brushstrokes without canvas beneath them. In actuality, they are a sculptural polymer substance that looks like plaster, imbued with bright color through dispersed paint, floating about an inch off the wall. They’re also impossibly large. Several would require a brush wider than a push broom.
Although it’s considered a two-dimensional medium, every painting has a thickness, and that thickness matters. Old masters used translucent paint layers to produce different surface effects. Great thicknesses of paint came into play in the 19th and 20th centuries, as the medium became as much of a focus as the pictorial subject matter, if not more.
Martiny takes the logical next step of divorcing paint from surface, presenting it as sheer presence. He’s also looking backward to the origins of paintingto its pure materiality, before its applications became formalized. This is emphasized by Martiny’s titles, taken from indigenous languages threatened with eradication by cultural and economic globalism.
Such historical thinking aside, Martiny’s work brings visceral pleasure through color and gesture. You can’t help but pantomime the oversized movement necessary to make the object on the wall. Deep blues and penetrating yellows saturate the eyepure color, without any surface shine, that changes into a topographical landscape as you approach. “Wasu” is the only work in the show that uses more than one color: a large, vertical, pea-green stroke that folds over itself thickly at the top, interrupted by a goldenrod horizontal slash with black striation. In this context, these two marks alone suggest the beginning of a narrative, as one mark leads to the next in the painter’s imaginationa minute decision, isolated and huge on the wall. Martiny is local, so watch www.donaldmartiny.com for his next exhibition.
In another show that looks abroad for inspiration, the Rock Fish Stew Institute of Literature and Materials has transformed CAM Raleigh’s basement Media Lab into a kissaa riff on a Japanese record lounge, complete with a bar.
Curators Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss installed the kissa as part of their sprawling BIG, BENT EARS project, which incorporates photography, video and music into environments designed for sustained attention and careful listening. Big, Bent Ears manifests in a number of ways and locations, including a 10-part multimedia series for The Paris Review as well as exhibitions such as this one, which includes video and Kate Joyce’s photography, craftily mounted on acoustic panels to cut down the echo in the concrete room.
At 8 p.m. on Monday and Thursday nights through Dec. 3, you can hang in the CAM kissa listening to different audiophilesmusicians, visual artists, writers and record collectorsspin vinyl on a vintage sound system. The series was kicked off by Ben Barwick of Kings and Dave Wilson of Chatham County Line, playing old-school country records. Cicely Mitchell and Al Strong of The Art of Cool spun a tribute to the late jazz great Ornette Coleman. And, on July 9, Mac McCaughan (Superchunk, Merge Records) delves into music from New Zealand.
There will be pop-up nights, too, when anyone can bring a few records and take their turn dropping a needle onto select tracks. It’s like the final wee-hours phase of a house party, when a few stragglers are still hanging out and listening to music, telling tales of love and woe the tunes prompt them to recall.
This article appeared in print with the headline “In Living Color.”