Image by image, artists build impact in the Haggerty
Sometimes creative energy isn’t best expended by jumping from one subject to another, but by devoted exploring of similarities and subtle variations. Seeing in Sequence, recently opened at the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University, shows eight very different artists circling around their particular subjects day in and day out.
This repeated revisiting of an idea or image is all that binds a show that runs the stylistic gamut, from the abstractions of Donald Judd (1928-1994) and his geometric woodcuts from the early ‘90s to the historical images of 19th-century artist Utagawa Hiroshige’s 100 Famous Views of Edo series.
Artists like Hiroshige (1797-1858) and Fritz Eichenberg (1901-1990) present images that can be read as part of a larger exploration of place and activities. Hiroshige, a charming guide, takes us through strikingly bright Japanese landscapes and waterways. People stroll through temple grounds or along rivers, and they exude a gentle expressiveness even in the few lines allotted to their forms. In sharp contrast, Eichenberg’s inky woodcuts, based on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The House of the Dead, show prison camp life in shrouded in black holes of sorrow and suffering. Even the highlights barely break the surface of dark horror.
Jennifer Bartlett (b. 1941) offers a narrative of sorts in her screen prints,The Four Seasons. Each composition scatters between abstract patterning and representational symbols. Playing cards are chancy; mortality looms in the ever-present skeleton. Bartlett signs herself into her work with hand prints, a gesture reminiscent of prehistoric cave paintings in France. Her works suggest powerful psychic reactions to life, death, and time, but reined in by ubiquitous pattern and texture to more polite, less brutal, terms.
The most famous face in the exhibition comes courtesy of Andy Warhol (1928-1987) and his iconic Marilyn Monroe screen prints. It’s impossible to look at these works without feeling their load of cultural baggage: The cult of celebrity, the enduring mystique, the tragedy of sudden death (not just Monroe’s, but also Warhol’s). The paintings still hold a charge, invested as they are with glamour, fame, sex, beauty, and the fascination of those conditions.
Quite opposite conditions arise in pictures catching the rougher qualities of daily living. Stephen Shore’s (b. 1947) photographs from the early ‘70s are quotidian views of American streets, but vibrant coats of paint over undeniable wear and tear enliven them. Fast-forward to the late ‘90s and David Deutsch’s (b. 1943) overhead photos of seemingly down-and-out Los Angeles houses, shot from low-flying helicopter and spot-lit at night. An overwhelming feeling of surveillance and suspicion amid the scruffy yards rises from these photos.
Ralph Steiner (1899-1986) points his camera to the sky in Cloud Studies. Celestial forms dwarf the few readable human landmarks. A small silhouetted building and a radio tower are barely there as clouds emanate like a puffy soft blaze of benign fire. Other compositions curl like dancers, and some fly like supernatural monsters.
Day in, day out. Sometimes art is more a matter of discreet degrees than grand gestures.
Seeing in Sequence continues through August 7, 2011. All images courtesy of the Haggerty Museum of Art of Marquette University. Admission is free. For hours, location and further information, visit the museum’s website.