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December 19, 2000


UMBC's Fine Arts Gallery presents Painting Zero Degree, a major exhibition that explores the revolution in painting that occurred some thirty years ago with the work of Robert Ryman, John McCracken, and others, and its reinterpretation by an international group of contemporary artists.The exhibition, organized by Independent Curators International and curated by Carlos Basualdo, is on view January 22 through March 10 and comprises 35 works by 14 international artists from both generations; five artists have created new works specially for the exhibition.

The opening reception will be held on February 8 from 5 to 7 p.m. Basualdo, chief curator of exhibitions at the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University, will present a public lecture in the Fine Arts Gallery on March 8 at 3 p.m. Gallery hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information call the Gallery at (410) 455-3188.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, a number of artists in the United States and Europe began to disregard traditional notions of what constitutes a painting, such as individual expression or illusionistic space, and focused their work instead on one or two of the most basic elements of their craft, such as color or brushstroke. Ironically, this exploration of the essential elements of painting, which may be thought of as a pursuit of painting's "zero degree," yields highly diverse work. The American painter Robert Ryman, for example, has produced a rich and complex body of work by focusing primarily on the brushstroke and on variations in the canvas' support, avoiding considerations of composition and color. Ryman's contemporary, French artist Daniel Buren, takes this reductive strategy in the opposite direction, moving away from the discrete canvas and applying bands of color to walls, flags, and other surfaces outside those of traditional painting.

Like the work of Buren, much of the art in Painting Zero Degree extends beyond paint on canvas to include such untraditional materials as furniture, carpet, clothing, and video. Much of it also questions long-held beliefs about art, such as the relationship of art to architecture and design and the belief in an artwork as an entity unto itself, unrelated to its surroundings.

Painting Zero Degree includes older as well as recent works by four members of the first generation of artists: Buren, Ryman, John McCracken and Niele Toroni. Two paintings by Ryman, Distributor and Region, illuminate the variety and sheer beauty that his reductivist strategy can render. Buren has contributed one of his rare floor pieces, To Your Feet (Aux pieds), turning a portion of the gallery floor into one of the artist's trademarked "striped" environments. By moving his stripes of color off the traditional canvas and into the wider environment, Buren raises fascinating issues about the institutional context of art, and highlights the ways in which an artwork changes according to the context in which it is presented.

Swiss artist Niele Toroni, who is based in France, creates imprints with a two-inch paintbrush and repeats them at regular intervals on a variety of surfaces. In Round Trip (Orange), the imprints are placed on four canvases, resting on easels positioned at ninety-degree angles to each other, forming a square. The strict regularity of the intervals at which the "brushstroke" is repeated precludes any compositional effects, creating, rather, what looks like rectangular sections arbitrarily cut out of wallpaper. Thus, Toroni has removed the painter's brush from its traditional associations with subjective expression.McCracken, who is represented by three works, focuses on color and form and their relationship to each other. He creates three-dimensional pieces in which one color covers the entire form, unifying the two elements into a single object and avoiding composition and visual incident. The result is work that borders on design, yet is not utilitarian.

Among the younger generation of artists, several pursue the relationship of color to support. In Colors/II, for example, one of the works contributed by Swiss artist Adrian Schiess, the artist has actually severed color from material. Schiess's video "paintings" are large-scale projections of colors that are programmed to subtly mutate over the course of an hour, making the color of the work impossible to name.

Italian artist Rudolf Stingel, who resides in Los Angeles and New York, explores color through the medium of industrial carpet, which he orders in his chosen color and then has installed on the floor and walls of the exhibition space by professional carpet installers. In his untitled piece in the exhibition, orange carpet covers the floor and one entire wall of the room in which it is installed. While the intense color, which saturates its environment, is in the tradition of Color Field painting, Stingel has humorously undermined the "pure" painterly quality of that movement by using factory-made, wall-to-wall carpeting, an icon of popular American culture.

German artist Karin Sander's work is also quite humorous. For one of her works in the exhibition, Brushstroke, Red, Sander built up many layers of acrylic paint and let them dry. The result is a rubbery, red "brushstroke"-or an amusing parody of a brushstroke-which is affixed directly to the wall, as if it were putty. The instructions according to which the work, measuring just over 3 x 1 inches, is to be installed do not specify precisely where it is to be put, saying only that it should be placed "rather high," leaving the decision about placement to individual museums or galleries. Sander's beautiful "brushstrokes" are made as multiples, further undermining the idea of the brushstroke as a vehicle of individual expression, as well as of the artwork as a unique object, separable from the context in which it was made and in which it is viewed.

Argentine artist Pablo Siquier, who has three untitled paintings in the exhibition, works in the traditional medium of acrylic on canvas. Siquier's patterns of digitally-designed black lines on white canvas resemble maps or architectural diagrams. They do not, however, refer to anything outside themselves; while appearing to be "useful," they are strictly non-utilitarian.

Another Argentine artist, Gladys Nistor, who resides in France, also creates work that refers to design but in fact has no "real-life" application. Nistor applies shapes cut out of black felt directly to the wall, using architectural features such as doors as the measurement for the outer edge of each piece. The reference to architectural elements, combined with the shapes of the individual pieces of felt, creates an illusion of depth, not only eliciting the expectation that the work is a plan for something "real," but also raising the issue of the traditional role of painting as a window into reality. Works such as Nistor's untitled pieces in the exhibition are installed by staff at each site, based on drawings contributed by the artist.

The other artists included in the exhibition are Fabio Kacero (Argentina), Clay Ketter (U.S./Sweden), Peter Kogler (Austria), Felipe Mujica (Chile), and Sophie Smallhorn (Great Britain).

Painting Zero Degree has been on view at the Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; the Fuller Museum of Art, Brockton, Massachusetts; Fred Jones, Jr., Museum of Art, Norman, Oklahoma and will be on view at the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art this spring; additional venues will be announced.The exhibition was made possible, in part, by a generous grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., with additional support from the Austrian Cultural Institute, in New York, and the ICIoIndependents. It is accompanied by an illustrated catalog.

Carlos Basualdo is a critic, curator, poet, and art historian. He has curated a number of international exhibitions at museums including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami, the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo, and the Museo Nacional Centro de Art Reine Sofía, in Madrid. He is the international project coordinator for Apex Art Curatorial Program, New York.

For twenty-five years, the non-profit Independent Curators International (ICI) has sought to enhance the understanding and appreciation of contemporary art. ICI makes this art accessible to the broadest possible public, providing diverse audiences around the globe-many of them not regularly exposed to contemporary art-with innovative, challenging exhibitions. Collaborating with a wide range of distinguished curators to offer exhibitions and catalogs that introduce and document works in all mediums, by both emerging and established artists from around the world, ICI is a leader in its field. The catalogs it produces enhance the impact of the exhibitions by putting the art on view in historical, socio-political, or cultural contexts. Since its founding, ICI exhibitions have been seen by over 5 million people.

Posted by dwinds1 at December 19, 2000 12:00 AM