Order and Disorder: Three Artistic Takes on Geometrics

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Anni Albers, Fox I, 1972. Photo-offset litho on paper, 24 x 20 in. Gift of Katherine and Nicholas Fox Weber, 1981; © 2008 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Roy Lichtenstein, Imperfect Diptych (Imperfect series), 1988. Woodcut, screen print, and collage on museum board, 57 7/8 in x 97 3/4 in. Gift of Sidney Stolz and David Hatfield, 2009; Frank Keller, Specter Planes VIII, 1980. Oil on wood panel, 41 x 41 in. Gift of Arthur E. Smith, 1980

To me, one of the greatest things about museums is their ability to create interesting juxtapositions that allow viewers to see things they may not have seen otherwise. In a gallery located in the original Phillips house, three striking works are put into conversation with one another: Anni AlbersFox I, Roy Lichtenstein’s Imperfect Diptych, and Frank Keller’s Specter Planes VIII. Each composition employs geometric shapes, notably triangles, to very different effects. They provide three distinct visions, demonstrating how similar subject matter can be presented in more than one way.

Anni Albers’ Fox I (1972) consists of two horizontal, patterned rectangles, separated by a wide gap. On the top, gray triangles facing in various directions are arranged in front of a red background. The bottom is an inversion of this, placing red triangles over a background of gray. The shapes are uniform in size and evenly spaced. The precision and carefully crafted geometry of this work speaks to Albers’ long career as an accomplished textile designer and weaver. The print is planned and systematic, confined within rigid parameters. Yet, there is a freedom from complete uniformity. Facing in different directions, the triangles add a dynamic element and bring vitality to the work.

Measuring 57 7/8 x 97 3/4 inches, Imperfect Diptych (1988) by Roy Lichtenstein occupies an entire gallery wall. Like Albers, Lichtenstein divides the composition into two rectangles. He depicts various geometric shapes, coloring them with matte gray, shiny silver, splashes of red and blue stripes, and of course, red and blue versions of the famous Benday dot pattern. Remember when you were in elementary school and learned how to draw a star without picking your pencil up off of the paper? This print reminds me of that technique in that the shapes seem to all stem from the same line. This composition is not as restricted as the Albers; we can see Lichtenstein starting to experiment with the idea of both preserving the shape’s geometric order, and wanting to break free from it.

Frank Keller’s Specter Planes VIII (1980) depicts various shapes that lack a coherent spatial arrangement. No two shapes are identical, though Keller does repeat some muted colors. Because it is a painting rather than a print, the artist’s hand is much more evident in this work than in the others. He employs strong diagonals to create the illusion of space, creating a depth that the Albers and Lichtenstein lack. Of the three artists, Keller breaks free from order the most. Some shapes overlap, obscuring parts of others, and some float away from the center, travelling out past the confines of the composition.

Fox I, Imperfect Diptych, and Specter Planes VIII’s current installation in the gallery together not only shows various ways to deal with geometry, but provides a rich viewing experience. From the highly ordered composition by Albers, to the work starting to break free from its confines by Lichtenstein, to the freedom of Keller’s canvas, the order and disorder of each piece is emphasized in its comparison to these gallery companions.

Emily Conforto, Marketing & Communications Intern

The Power of Design Through the Lens of Ellsworth Kelly

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Ellsworth Kelly, Red Relief, 2009. Private collection. Photo: Jerry L. Thompson, courtesy the artist. © Ellsworth Kelly.

As an educator, I find lessons of modern-day simplicity to be a great starting point for fine arts students. The field of design revolves around how art interacts with the tasks and perceptions of everyday life. Design isn’t just aesthetically pleasing; it also serves an everyday purpose. I believe art should be people-focused and design should serve as a platform for which dialogue and discussion is facilitated. Perceptions of light, color, and space aid in constructing a design and in developing visual literacy. In addition to written/verbal literacy, I think visual literacy is an integral skill one should possess.

The work of Ellsworth Kelly, currently on view in the Panel Paintings 2004-2009  is interesting to consider in relation to the subject of design and human interaction. Kelly, whose works I see as brushing between minimalism and post-painterly abstraction, has a clear and calibrated eye for design. Having formerly been a graphic designer, and currently an art educator, I see elements of two-dimensional and three-dimensional design as imperative when understanding Kelly’s artistic process. Design in itself best communicates with the viewer when clarity is achieved, an element Kelly has mastered. Formations of line, symmetry, and composition aid in developing a clear message within his pieces–these messages, however simple in design, evoke a tapestry of complexity within their meaning and interpretation.

It is this eye for simplicity in design that I hope future learners adapt and refer to throughout their art making process. Artistic intelligence lies in being able to condense such rich information into its purest, simplest form–to capture it, and still be able to communicate it to the audience.

Who are some other artists you believe share Kelly’s approach to aesthetic simplicity?

Is visual literacy an important skill for all learners to possess, not solely art students?

 

Fatima Elgarch, K12 Education Intern

Controlled Disorganization: Ellsworth Kelly at the Barnes

sculpture for a large wall by Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly (American, b. 1923). Sculpture for a Large Wall, 1956–1957. Anodized aluminum, 104 panels, 136 x 782 1/2 x 12 in. (345.4 x 1987.6 x 30.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, 1998. © Ellsworth Kelly. Image: © 2013 The Barnes Foundation

Earlier this month, my family and I decided to go on a little getaway to Philadelphia specifically to see the newly revamped Barnes Foundation. The Barnes is one of several major art galleries like MoMA, Detroit Institute of the Arts, the National Gallery of Art and The Phillips Collection celebrating Ellsworth Kelly’s 90th birthday by hosting exhibitions of his work.

Having spent many a lunch break exploring the Phillips’s Kelly exhibition (one of the main perks of being an intern in an art museum) I was definitely interested in seeing the Barnes’s exhibition as a means of comparison. The combination of the two shows, and the differences between them, gave me a unique perspective on an artist whose work I was mostly unfamiliar with until recently.

Walking into the exhibition at the Barnes, the first piece you see is Sculpture for a Large Wall, and this was my favorite piece in the exhibit. The sculpture is massive, taking up the entire back wall of the gallery space, and is composed of 104 aluminum panels colored red, yellow, blue, and black. These panels are lined up in various positions along four rows. One of the reasons why this was undeniably my favorite piece in the show was because of its sense of chaos and mayhem, which juxtaposes the serenity and calmness of the other pieces. The panels are not neatly lined up, but rather pointed in every direction, making it feel like a controlled disorganization, which contrasts to the element of perfection seen in his other pieces. Seeing this piece side by side with his other work gave me perspective on the breadth of his work and his unmistakable style.

And, because I always like to end my posts with an interesting tidbit, this was the first time since 1998 that Sculpture for a Large Wall was shown in Philadelphia. The work was commissioned by the Philadelphia Transportation Building in 1957 where it hung until renovations forced its removal in 1998.

Hannah Hoffman, Marketing Intern