What are we talking about when we talk about art?

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Last Saturday we had a wonderful (first ever) event in the new Second Saturday series organized by the Boston Art Dealers Association in conjunction with the current exhibit Ground Cover: Contemporary Abstraction between Figure and Ground, curated by William Kaizen, Assistant Professor of Art History and Visual Studies, Northeastern University. The panel Abstraction and Contemporary Art included Kaizen in conversation with Peter Kalb, Associate Professor of Contemporary Art, Cynthia L. and Theodore S. Berenson Chair, Brandeis University and Martha Buskirk, Professor of Art History and Criticism, Montserrat College of Art. They had a terrific conversation and great feedback from the audience as well. This is my response to and understanding of both the talk and the exhibit itself.

Sometimes I see things differently. It can happen after I read something, hear a lecture or visit an exhibit, and I will be profoundly affected and pleased by this new understanding of the world around me. This is the case with Ground Cover, seeing the works in the exhibit with the particular lens of the relationship of ground to figure and the ways the artists express their relationship to the theme. They all make their work by hand, perhaps expressing our collective anxiety to an ever-increasing technological world; perhaps balking at the trend of many contemporary artists whose practice involves technology for the production of the work.

The artists chosen by Kaizen exemplify the exhibit’s theme of ground cover and they each articulate in a variety of ways this relationship of figure to ground. In his curatorial statement he says: “Dancing between thing and nothing, event and non-event, appearance and disappearance, the works in Ground Cover transmute ground into figure and figure into ground.” Each of the works asserts itself in relationship to figure/ground or ground/figure and also articulates the space of the gallery and in so doing reaffirms itself as an object. For each, the question of what is figure and what is ground is one that is answered or resolved by the process itself and the resulting object. This assumes that the paintings are objects and not just surfaces for material. In fact all the works hover in the liminal space between object and surface in varying degrees.

The artists in the exhibit are not ambivalent about making objects and raise several important questions. How does their work function in our ever-increasing technological world? Why is abstraction still relevant? Artists always have responded to their particular culture. Art is made in response to society and thereby becomes its window. The work in Ground Cover gives us many different ways to see.

Don’t miss this exhibit! Ground Cover: Contemporary Abstraction between Figure and Ground runs through September 28.

Photo credits:  Will Holcroft, Installation view of Ground Cover exhibit, Mary Bucci McCoy, Attendees September 13 event

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