Context & Meaning in Abstraction

February 24th - April 1st, 2017

Pro-Forma assembles nine painters and sculptors who work around, with, and through abstraction. They exploit the ways in which abstraction not only is, in itself and for itself, but pictures things, touches the past, tells stories, and creates meaning.

+ Trudy Benson
+ Jamison Brosseau
+ Stacy Fisher
+ Leigh Anne Chambers
+ Jason Stopa
+ Paul Behnke
+ Nikki Leone
+ Ron Johnson
+ Matthew F Fisher

Abstraction itself is old news. And yet it is still viewed with suspicion from across the political spectrum for seeming to flee from reality. This is because traditionally abstraction has been tied to the impulse for autonomy, to art’s yearning to stand on its own, to be its own justification, to refuse to serve kings or popes.

It turned out to be pretty good at this latter task, but we shouldn’t mistake the particulars of abstraction’s history for any indelible quality, especially with regard to specific artists.

The artists in Pro-Forma take part in a new chapter in abstraction’s history; its refusal to sit back and be pretty, its muscling into our everyday lives. They do this through their imagery, which ranges from explicit to suggestive, and also through their materials and processes, which invite and sustain myriad connections.

Their works will create spaces of energy and contemplation among and between the walls of Work Release, and the viewer will encounter their distinct wills and personalities in that space. Unapologetic in their decisions, wanting their work to be itself, most fully and richly, the artists have not given up on modernism’s old dream of autonomy. But autonomy is not exclusive, and while the paintings and sculptures, placed in a space that calls for contextual, conversational engagement, welcome and invite close concentrated looking, they also reach out to one another and their situation.

As is often the case when a curator grafts a thin idea onto real-world working artists, abstraction as a theme is not the first thing on any of these artists’ minds. Instead they are thinking about color, pattern, process, myth, desire, books, street lamps, laundry, and everything else specific to artists and common to humans. Hopefully it is not too much of a stretch to say that the very self-absorption of these artists, their commitment as whole human beings to their work, is what makes it also about the viewer. The conflict between the participatory and contextual orientation of Work Release, and the inwardly-directed, formalist and visual orientation of abstraction, collapses and reconciles, and the myth of “passive” viewing explodes.

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