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Saturday, April 28, 2012

From Lebrun to Paul McCarthy

January 21-May 20, 2012
Pasadena Museum of California Art

There is an overwhelming solidarity by the forty-one artists exhibiting at the LA RAW exhibition.  Many of the artists have long-standing relationships with eachother.  The major focus of Abject Expressionism begins in the entry of the exhibition with Jack Zajac's monumental sculpture entitled, Descent from the Cross (1955).  The viewers are reminded of the torture and humiliation that Christ on the cross symbolizes.  The larger than life Christ sculpture exemplifies punishment and agonizing pain in his sinuous appendages.  He also resembles the emaciated Holocaust survivors seen in news reels of World War II.

To the left of the main room Rico Lebrun's Magdaline (1950) and John Paul Jones' Ronk's Woman (1964), co-exist on opposite sides of the room.  Magdaline an "abject woman" by reputation and rumor is also known as a devoted disciple of Jesus.  She was a witness to the crucifixion, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus.  As a patron saint of repentant sinners, Lebrun's image represents a stalwart woman facing her critics directly and profoundly visceral.  Additionally, women found near battlefields, are often prostitutes who help ease the soldiers' pain during their furloughs.  Jones' Ronk's Woman (1964) can represent a wife, mother, lady of the evening, and the illusions men experience in battle.  The scale of the work is a concentrated effort of heartache. The atmospheric quality centered on a solitary woman, waiting on the edge of the bed, stresses how women are expected to virtuously "wait" until their men return from war.  Jones' painting is the "mastaba" of the exhibition-"a bench of mud", basic, solid and grounded.  Also this female image is a subtle and acute feminist statement that eminates throughout the exhibition. 

Judy Chicago's Red Flag (1971) displays an aggressive symbol of the differences between men and women.  The graphic imagery of menstral blood is loud and clear for womens' rights. But what remains the same between the sexes is the blood soaked flags that are raised during wartime.  Bloodshed is inevitable during an siege.

Hans Burkhardt's My Lai (1968)  is a vestige of the horrors of war.  Cobblestones of skulls narrate the atrocities of the Vietnam War.  The images on Burkhardt's painting are replays that were brought into our homes on the nightly news.  It has been written many times that the exposure of war on television has diminished the shock value for the general public.  This over-exposure does not immunize us but instead infiltrates the television viewers with the trauma. It becomes "post-tramatic stress disorder" by association.

The exhibition is entitled from Lebrun to Paul McCarthy.  McCarthy's work focuses on using the human body as an art medium.  Like Jackson Pollack's action paintings McCarthy's performance piece, where he whips the gallery windows and walls with paint soaked rags, marks time and movement.  With every "whip" he created super-imposed "Rorshasch" images that continually stimulate our visual senses.  He's the "Abject Sisyphus"" painting his way uphill.  Michael Duncan stated that he coined the phrase "Abject Expressionism".  Paul McCarthy embodies the term with permanent and empheral marks.

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