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Selections from the American Abstract Artists
Metaphor Conteporary Art

Ward Jackson, “Opening Space” (2002), ink on paper. Courtesy of Metaphor Contemporary Art.

Metaphor Comtemporary Art’s show of the American Abstract Artists (AAA) is remarkable for several reasons. Metaphor is a relatively young gallery that has established a reputation for showing young artists. The AAA, established in 1936 for the purpose of promoting abstract art at a time when it was genuinely embattled, is anything but young. The presence of such a group in such a gallery is a view into history through a very contemporary lens. The show’s second distinction rests with the AAA itself and its newfound openness to curators. The group’s egalitarian principles stipulate that no qualitative distinctions should be drawn between its members. Gorky left the group in its early years for its unwillingness to violate this principle in his favor. De Kooning went with him. Curator Rene Lynch’s succinct selection of artists from the AAA’s swelling ranks is proof of a changing tide, one that surely rankles some members dedicated to the AAA’s founding principles.

If the AAA’s intent is to foster understanding of abstract art, however, then they have little to complain about. One small drawing, entitled “Opening Space,” by Ward Jackson in Metaphor’s twisting stairwell hits this mark on the money. There’s almost nothing to it: a lightly sketched rectangle containing six small squares each subdivided internally by colored lines. This little drawing makes abstract thought visible. The mere idea that colored lines across geometry could “open space,” as Jackson suggests, might well seem laughable to many, but it is precisely the type of concept that fascinates abstract artists. Lines, colors, and forms all have inherent properties that, if used properly, can evoke and virtually manipulate the material world.

Ideal seems structured to illustrate the breadth of what can constitute abstract art. One begins a tour of the space by treading on Rossana Martinez’s “Drawing for the Home, Love and Affection.” It is a triangular wedge of red and orange rubber that fills the role of both artwork and doormat. Its sister wedge nestles in the far corner beneath the stairwell near David Row’s imposing piece. Row tends to work large and this piece, small for him, is still one of the show’s largest. It is heedlessly exuberant, typical of Row, and its presence in the same room as Steven Westfall’s retiring, mystical work in greens and yellows makes for a dichotomy outlandish enough to justify its own show.

Upstairs, Sharon Brant and Michael Brennan share a wall. Brant’s “Black and White #3-Theme1” takes its geometry very seriously. In the spirit of Jo Baer, Brant has adeptly edged her white canvas in black, producing an animate piece more sensuous than those of her predecessor. Brennan’s piece is perhaps more rigorous in its use of geometry—taped not freehand—yet Brennan seems ambivalent. In classical geometric painting, geometry is a vehicle for transcendental thought. Not so with Brennan. His geometry seems merely a foil for the slashing palette knife work it frames. While Brant’s use of black and white calms, Brennan’s blacks and reds upset.

There is some question as to the role an organization such as the AAA should play today. Although abstraction is an accepted part of the art world, it remains commonly misunderstood as a hermetic form antagonistic to representational painting. Although this might be true in the minds of some abstract painters, it is not the case for abstraction itself. The AAA and supportive galleries like Metaphor have a leading roll to play in dismissing these false characterizations.


Ben La Rocco


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2005

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