Monday, June 23, 2014

Curatorial Conversations: Landscape/Mindscape

Stuart Horodner, the Museum's new director and Janie Welker, Museum curator recently discussed the motivations behind our Landscape/Mindscape: Selections from the Wells Fargo Collection exhibition.

Stuart: Landscape is a subject for art that has inspired artists for centuries. What prompted you to curate a show on this theme from the Wells Fargo Collection? And what about the title: Landscape/Mindscape?

Janie: I think landscape art has always been a mindscape, especially in this country. Nineteenth-century artists traveled the vastness of America and painted awe-inspiring vistas from the Hudson River Valley in upstate New York to the Yosemite Valley in California. They found a spiritual quality in the untamed wilderness, yes, but they also reflected the national imperative to occupy and tame this vast land. I thought it would be really interesting to move forward a century and see how the same artistic dialogue played out as society, culture, the arts—everything—changed. Plus, the Wells Fargo Collection had such great twentieth-century pieces—I couldn’t resist!

Stuart: The exhibition brings together acclaimed artists including Jennifer Bartlett, Helen Frankenthaler, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol, as well as less familiar names, like Aline Feldman and Peter Cuong Nguyen. How did you decide who to include?

Janie: I wanted to take advantage of some of their very large and bold works on paper, given the scale of our gallery walls, but I was also just bowled over by some of the lesser-known artists. I never get tired of looking at Aline Feldman’s aerial landscape, with its view of mountains and fields, the clouds and the shadows they cast. Some of my favorite works in this show are by artists I’ve never seen before. Suzanne Caporael made these very elegant, simple geometric abstractions that are etchings at their base, but then she hand-colored them with gouache to make these luscious surfaces. On top of that, the forms she used are based on blocks of poetry, which creates another level of meaning. There are so many incredible, but relatively unknown artists out there, and the people who assembled the Wells Fargo Collection did a wonderful job in their selections.

What are the pieces that you particularly respond to?

Stuart: I particularly like the range of techniques and mediums represented, and like you, appreciate the lesser-known artists. The fact that Aline Feldman surveyed the landscape from a small plane in order to get information for her woodcut print is terrific. I am a fan of Howard Hodgkin and his particular way of fusing the representational and the abstract, with bold colors and gestures. And Helen Frankenthaler uses printmaking to great effect.

Landscape /Mindscape includes paintings, drawings, silkscreens, etchings, and woodblocks; and of course, works that are realistic and abstract. Why was that range important to you?

Janie: I thought it was important to reflect the diversity of era—I mean, we have artists using advertising techniques to make and mass produce fine art, and artists very skillfully using historic techniques. Michael Berkhemer says he was influenced by the “purity and soberness” of seventeenth-century Dutch art—but he makes hard-edge geometric abstractions.

You started your career as an artist working in a very conceptual way—how do you see the conceptual content of the show?

Stuart: I was a very earnest and committed painter/ printmaker as a young man, interested in composition, mark making, and modes of representation. The various pictorial strategies in the exhibition makes sense to me. You are correct, I am deeply influenced by conceptual art, and so I have a soft spot for Christo and Jean-Claude, whose site-specific projects are challenging on every level. I appreciate the conceptual aspect of the show, and the question of how landscapes are understandable as such, or when they become something else. That to me, is the pleasurable tension of the works you’ve gathered.

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