“Art=Text=Art: Private Languages/Public Systems” the substantial and provocative new traveling exhibit in the University at Buffalo’s Anderson Gallery, studies the chemistry between text and visual art in postwar America.
Comprising more than 100 pieces on paper by 67 artists, the exhibit specifically surveys the resurgence of text into visual arts after World War II, as well as the simultaneous rise of concrete poetry.
As the Cold War progressed in America, artists – particularly those in the LGBT community – searched for ways to delicately resist cultural constraints and express ideas considered illicit in the postwar culture. Words in the selected pieces of “Art=Text=Art” rouse the viewer’s ability to create meaning in the work, allowing artists to express subtle and subversive political and cultural ideas.
First organized in 2011 by the University of Richmond Museums in Virginia, this fourth and final installation of “Art=Text=Art,” was re-curated by graduate students Sarah JM Kolberg, Cat Dawson,and Maddie Phinney under the direction of Jonathan D. Katz, associate professor and director of the doctoral program in visual studies at UB.
Broken up into five discreet sections – “Sexuality of Words,” “Visual Poetry,” “Systems,” “Personal Is Political” and “Anti-systems” – the exhibit displays an eagerness to educate and to illuminate the social context of its pieces. Using simple colors to identify each section on the top and bottom of the walls, as well as a black stencil typeface, the curators made it easy to follow the themes throughout the gallery.
Two of the most striking pieces, “Black Crows (Oranges #1)” by Grace Hartigan and “Generally sir, a disquieting situation” by Michael Goldberg and Bill Berkson, open the show outside of the “Sexuality of Words” and “Visual Poetry” sections. Using evocative imagery to literalize the poems, while also commenting on and replying to the text. With their vivid colors and dark undertones, these pieces set the tone for the rest of the exhibit.
John Cage’s “Lithograph B” from his “Not wanting to say anything about Marcel” is a fascinating piece in “Sexuality of words,” the first room of the exhibit, which also includes pieces from Jasper Johns and Robert Indiana. A dark background holds the dislocated elements of “Lithograph B,” arranged using the I Ching, gives the appearance of randomness. This chaotic placement allows viewers to reassemble the image, make their own connections and derive their own meaning with every consideration of the piece.
In the “Personal Is Political” section, Ed Ruscha plays with perception of text in the curled ribbon of “Self” and the geometric rectangles in “Grey Sex.” Both pieces use ordinary forms arranged suspiciously like words.
Opposite his works is Annabel Daou’s “Constitution.” Completed in 2004 just after the beginning of the Iraq War, Daou phonetically transliterated the U.S. Constitution into Arabic and wrote it out by hand.
Down the hall in the “Anti-systems” segment is Richard Bassett’s “Porn Clip #5” a selection from an erotic novel drawn in Braille and his “Untitled (perfect lovers), Feliz Gonzalez-Torres,” written in Braille, but kept behind glass, all unreadable to the blind, and virtually unknown to those who can see.
These three artists successfully use obfuscation, misdirection and form to arrive at political statements, though Daou’s is a touch less playful.
The curators make it easy to get tuned into the narrative (using the term loosely) of “Art=Text=Art” despite the sometimes dry academic essay explanations in each section. With so many pieces to see from so many artists, that is no small feat. They have organized the work with an eye toward informing and enriching the public, making viewing the exhibit a delight, and one that should not be missed.
What: “Art=Text=Art: Private Languages/Public Systems”
Where: University at Buffalo’s Anderson Gallery, One Martha Jackson Place
When: Through Jan. 11