Dual exhibit a win all around
“Adding To The Mix 6: Raymond Jonson’s “Abstract Naught,” 1930” and “In Pursuit of Strangeness, Wyeth and Westermann in Dialogue,” Ackland Art Museum, UNC Chapel Hill, through Aug. 25.
Klint Ericson and Erin Corrales-Diaz, UNC-Chapel Hill PhD art history candidates, have organized two exhibitions based on paintings, prints, sculpture and photographs from the permanent collections of the Ackland and several borrowed paintings from the N.C. Museum of Art. It is a win-win for the university, its museum, the art history department and the collaboration between the two museums. These students have been given the opportunity to put their skills to work in real situations.
Ericson, the 2012-13 Eaton Curatorial Intern, has developed a theme around Raymond Johnson’s “Abstract Naught,” 1930. Corrales-Diaz, recipient of the Joan and Robert Huntley Art History Scholarship, has developed an exhibit on Andrew Weyth’s “Weatherside” (loaned by the N.C. Museum of Art) and H.C. Westermann’s “Vent for a Chicken House.” I caught up with Ericson in the gallery at the end of a session with the docents; he stayed on and we talked about the exhibits.
“Abstract Naught” is part of a series on numbers by Johnson. It stands on the cusp of a change in his style from realism to abstraction with a particular interest in cubism. The composition is in a palette of muted blues and grays with the number “O” at its center. Through the background of prisms of color we see visions of cities in one area and clouds in another. Centering “Naught” on the gallery wall Ericson moves to the left with images of landscapes and to the right on the theme of seriality. Following the landscape theme he shows us views of nature or of land with buildings and people. He ends this section with Kimowan Metchewais’ (McLain) “Fence,” a photograph of an empty corral with an open gate which he explained is a condensation of the theme of landscape and property; a fence keeps people in or locks people out.
To the right of “Naught” Ericson moves into the theme of seriality, working off the fact this canvas is part of a series on the numbers “0-10.” On the wall we look at various images which are parts of a series. Series can be about a particular story; an example could be the life of Christ. A series can also be based on a point of production, like Monet’s “Haystacks,” or Josef Albers’ compositions on color. Ericson said his exhibition is about artistic means, not about narrative or biography.
He said the method used to create art affects the meaning of each piece. If, for example, all 11 of Johnson’s “number” series were on the wall it would have quite a different effect than seeing just one. Since it has been taken out of its original context, it must take on new meaning as a stand-alone image. In the case of Monet’s “Haystacks,” however, the artist was intent on showing how light changes the look of the material world; each of these compositions were created as individual images. They were intended to stand alone. Johnson’s numbers, on the other hand, would have the most impact when seen together, each primary number feeding on the others. As a standalone, Ericson gives it new meaning by making other connections.
Corrales-Diaz shares the gallery space with Ericson and explores the idea of home as something both familiar and odd. Using Wyeth’s painting of a weather-beaten two-story house, seen sideways in sharp perspective, and Westermann’s standing three-dimensional slender wood house, she investigates the idea of the childhood home as a mixture of the familiar and the strange provoking a concept Freud called “uncanny.”
A wall text tells us the wood house was made for a couple, friends of Westermann’s, who had bought an old chicken barn to restore as a home. After they moved in, they realized they had inherited a vent with holes that allowed tiny critters, birds and gusts of wind to enter their space and so the sculpture imitates that vent.
Using these widely dissimilar objects as book-ends, Corrales-Diaz offers us images of familiar objects in strange contexts. Ralph Gibson’s photograph “Untitled (Hand on Door),” 1969, shows a view down a short corridor toward a shaft of light coming from a partially open door. A disembodied hand extends through the door and an ordinary hallway is just enough askew to suggest something sinister may be going on. Or consider Todd Hido’s “Untitled #2214,” a very dark photograph with a rectangle of light coming from a window. Shadows engulf the house while that one area of light projects both a feeling of safety and of mystery. In the ambiguity Corrales-Diaz strengthens her theme.
She uses Jerry Uelsmann’s “Untitled,” 1987 as another example. This is a staged piece where a large painting of a leafless tree in its winter garb hangs above a Victorian sofa and leaves from the tree levitate over it. In another setting we would label this surrealism. A much-loved object in the Ackland collection is Marilyn Anne Levine’s ceramic “Boots,” 1973. The artist suggests the boots relate to domesticity; a man’s boots deeply worn and now frozen in clay.
The curators decided to pick one painting from the collection that related to both exhibits and hang it in the last gallery. They chose Cheryl Goldsleger’s “Inverse Antechamber,” 1986, a Piranesi-type interior (Giovanni Piranesi, 1720-1778) with multiple viewpoints and mazes of stairways filled with ghostly chairs. Although her light tones of color make this cavernous space less terrifying, the scene is the stuff of nightmares. Do you see the connections?
Blue Greenberg’s column appears each week in Entertainment and More. She can be reached at email@example.com or by writing her in c/o The Herald-Sun, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.