September 4, 2015
A Santa Fe Group Show Reveals the Abstractions Within Figuration, 09/04/2015
Bridget Gleeson

A Santa Fe Group Show Reveals the Abstractions Within Figuration, 09/04/2015
Bridget Gleeson

A new exhibition of figurative paintings in Santa Fe marks a departure for David Richard Gallery, a venue that previously focused exclusively on abstract art. The movement to start featuring figurative works mirrors the relatively recent trajectory of the genre itself.

“Un(Real),” a group show curated by Mary Dinaburg and Howard Rutkowski, is the debut of the gallery’s figuration program. Considering that David Richard is a gallery that defines itself by its concentration on post-war abstract art, from Abstract Expressionism to Minimalism, it’s a noteworthy step to widen the focus to include figurative painting. And yet it’s a familiar story, if you happen to know something about the history of modern painting.

For much of the 20th century, figurative artwork was relegated to the sidelines. For critics and consumers alike, abstraction was all the rage: there was significantly more interest around avant-garde movements like Cubism. At least, that is, until the 1980s, when a wave of Neo-Expressionist painters (Jean-Michel Basquiat, anyone?) burst onto the scene and into the spotlight, heralding the revival of figurative painting in the contemporary art world. The widening of scope at David Richard Gallery looks, in retrospect, like an almost inevitable development.

And a welcome one, too. “Un(Real)” highlights the work of five talented artists: Michele Bubacco, Angela Fraleigh, David Humphrey, Martin Mull, and Claire Sherman. Though they start with similar subjects, in many instances, the artists approach them with contrasting styles and perspectives. Consider Humphrey’s Shutterbugs (2014) and Mull’s Fatherly Advice (2014): both are beach scenes, seemingly depictions of the all-American family vacation. But the former has a cartoonish quality, an air of Pop Art, while the latter is photorealistic, like an old black and white snapshot—and is vaguely foreboding, the high-contrast tones suggesting an oncoming storm, the expression of the boy, buried in sand, more than a little uncomfortable.

Similarly, elsewhere in the show, seated or supine subjects form the focal points of Angela Fraleigh’s Saturn’s Moon (2015) and Michele Bubacco’s Il Ballo (2014). While Fraleigh’s piece is evocative of a Renaissance painting, with plump, rosy women looking like the grown-up versions of cherubim on an Italian ceiling fresco, Bubacco’s painting is dark and vaguely disturbing, the subject’s face hidden, the figure partly under the table—passed out, perhaps, after an excess of drink.

Viewing these pieces side by side, the mysterious along with the cheerful, the cartoon beside the photograph, only lends weight to the idea that figurative painting can contain its own strange dimensions and abstractions. “(Un)Real,” as it turns out, is a fitting name, and the show an appropriate and intriguing entrée into the genre for David Richard Gallery.

—Bridget Gleeson

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Associated Artist

Associated Exhibitions

  • (Un)Real Featuring: Michele Bubacco, Angela Fraleigh, David Humphrey, Martin Mull and Claire Sherman
    Curated by Mary Dinaburg and Howard Rutkowski
    July 28, 2015 - September 26, 2015

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January 17, 2017
Globalocation: Celebrating 20 Years of Artnauts
J. Willard Marriott Library
The University of Utah, 01/17/2017

The University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library will host the art exhibition Globalocation: Celebrating 20 Years of Artnauts, Jan. 20-March 3.

Artnauts, an art collective formed 20 years ago by George Rivera, professor of art and art history at the University of Colorado, Boulder, consists of 300 global artists who serve as goodwill ambassadors, acknowledging and supporting victims of oppression worldwide. Their creativity has generated over 230 exhibitions across five continents. Five faculty members from the U’s Department of Art and Art History are members of the collective, Sandy Brunvand, Beth Krensky, V. Kim Martinez, Brian Snapp and Xi Zhang.

Globalocation derives from “Globalocational Art” — a concept used by the Artnauts to refer to their exhibitions in international venues. It is the mission of the Artnauts to take art to places of contention, and this anniversary exhibition is a sample of places where they have been and themes they have addressed.

“The Artnauts could not exist without the commitment of the artists in the collective to a common vision of the transformative power of art,” said Rivera. “The Artnauts make their contribution with art that hopefully generates a dialogue with an international community on subjects that are sometimes difficult to raise.”

Krensky, associate department chair of the Art and Art History Department, had the opportunity to travel with Rivera in Chile as part of an Artnauts project, working with mothers who were searching for their children who had mysteriously disappeared during a time of political unrest.

“When I travelled to Chile in 1998, George and I spent an afternoon with the Mothers of the Disappeared, and the meeting changed my life,” said Krensky. “It was from that moment on that I placed a picture of them on my desk to look at every day. I was so moved by what they each had lost — a son, a brother, a father — and yet what remained for them was a deep, deep well of love. They were fierce warriors and stood up to the government to demand the whereabouts and information of the people who had disappeared, but they lived within profound love.”

The 20th anniversary exhibition at the Marriott Library is a retrospective of the traveling works the Artnauts have toured around the globe. The exhibition will be located on level three of the library. The opening reception is open to the public and will be held on Friday, Jan 20, 4-6 p.m. Rivera will speak at 4 p.m.

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