February 6, 2008

The trouble with JPEGs

Baltimore Museum of Art presents an intimate show of Ellsworth Kelly's paintings and drawings selected from local collections and the museum's vault. In the City Paper, Bret McCabe explains why Kelly's work has to be experienced in person. "Sure, it's big--not imposing enough to dwarf anybody standing before the rectangles, but sizable enough that you can stand in front of each single panel and get lost in its hue. The panels are also exceptionally well made: they look durable, framed in metal that lends them an almost industrial temperament. And something about the colors themselves feels important, although it's hard to explain why. The red isn't merely red--it's a specific red, but specific to what remains elusive. So yes, 'Green Red Yellow Blue' is a series of four vertical rectangles, and yet there's something about the modular paintings on the wall that makes you seek something in them that a mere four colored rectangles couldn't possibly convey.

"The above observations only spotlight that the digital age has not been kind to those generations of post-war American male artists that include the abstract expressionists and minimalists. Not saying they're in any sort of danger, mind you: Their stories, histories, and status where it counts in the art world--in museums' permanent collections and on their galleries' walls--is firmly entrenched, arguably to the detriment of other artists contemporary to the time period. But, they don't truck the same weight they once did. The grandiose ideas of abstract expressionism and the sleek formalism of minimalism don't always translate well into a world where computer-aided design and reproduction can make the physical demands of such works feel a bit overindulgent. Worse, if you've only seen a Jackson Pollock or Robert Motherwell in a 72 DPI image on a computer screen, well, you haven't really seen the painting at all." Read more.

"Front Room: Ellsworth Kelly," curated by Darsie Alexander. Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD. Through Feb. 17.

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