By Carter B. Horsley
In recent years, the appropriation of artistic
style has gained favor in certain circles even though it can be
construed by some as lack of originality and riding on someone
else's coattails, especially when it is not promoted as a homage
but as an important aesthetic statement.
Of course, it is increasingly difficult to
be truly original given the ever-expanding universe of art and
while some artists may not be as innovative as those they appropriate
it is possible to create something more impressive, or powerful,
or interesting than the original source. An infatuation with style
can overlook talent.
Elizabeth Murray, the subject of a major exhibition
this fall and winter at The Museum of Modern Art in New York well
illustrates the problem of pidgeon-holing artists.
It is impossible to view many of the works
in this show without wanting to make analogies to many other artists.
"Bounding Dog," shown above, for example, quickly conjures
the organics of Art Nouveau and the imaginary worlds of Wassily
Kandinsky. "Do The Dance," shown lower in this article,
calls to mind the rhythmic energy of Keith Haring. "Wishing
For The Farm," also shown lower in this article, reminds
one of the painterliness and topographic studies of Wayne Thiebaud.
And many of Murray's works are sculpturally related to many of
Frank Stella's constructions.
Despite her evolving artistic
path, Murray's work consistently demonstrates fine painterliness,
strong palettes and a slightly unfinished quality that make her
work distinctive and interesting. Indeed, one is mightly impressed
by her superb compositional qualities and choice of palettes.
Murray's inventiveness is quite
remarkable and there is a richness to her visions that is earthy,
lush and dramatic. "Don't Be Cruel," for example, has
a fluttering quality of dance but its jagged diagonal element
in the middle surprises, breaking the fluidity of the image while
reinforcing notions of strain and stress and movement.
In the exhibition's catalogue,
Robert Storr provides the following commentary about this work:
"Recognizing the ways
in which overlaps with but stands apart from many stylistic categories
past and present, it may be argued that...Murray's art thrives
on incongruity. No picture of the period makes the extremes to
which can lead more eplicit than Don't Be Cruel....A visual
riff on the title of an old Elvis Presley song, and the most convoluted
version of the tensions...between stiff planarity (the table image)
and topological pliability (the Silly Putty torquing of the canvas),
Don't Be Cruel wreaks havoc with the concept of the stabililty
of home in ways that simultaneously make one laugh and wince.
Whereas only the watches and a mustached polyp in Dali's 1931
classic The Persistence of Memory droop, here everything
flops and spirals. Furthermore, here, for the first time in modernism,
the shape of biomorphic painting is subject to the same deformations
as the shapes depicted in it. The signal importance of this discovery
that the inside (image) and the outside (contour) of the picture
could be treated in the same terms cannot be overstated, though
Murray's otherwise traditional technique and her refusal to make
large claims for such formal challenges to the status quo tended
to distract from the originality of what she had actually done."
"Breaking the decorum
of mainstream modernism with her own distinctive brand of grab-you-by-the-collar
urgency and improvisatory, implicitly anarchistic joie de vivre,
Murray has taken many risks to make her art, and in the process
has fundamentally altered the rules of the game," Mr. Storr,
the Rosalie Solow Professor of Modern Art at The Institute of
Fine Arts at New York University, declared.
"Euclid," on the
other hand, can appear to be a duet between two singers surrounded
by four powerful horns or an organic jewel of fragile delicacy.
It also shows the influence of Surrealism.
'Wishing For The Farm"
has an opalesque quality of a jewel except for its enormous size.
Is it a celestial vision or an Egyptian artifact? It is both macro
and micro. Its sinousness is both sensual and high-tech. Like
many of her works of different periods of her career, it is easy
to extrapolate an entire impressive oeuvre of related works, an
impressive achievement that escapes most artists.
Her most recent work, such as "Do The
Dance," is a startling marvel of explosive and compacted
energy that is cacaphonous and well demonstrates Murray's enchantment
with the fractured world of Cubism. Much of her work breaks into
disparate sections, usually quite independently interesting but
made more exciting by their separations and juxtapositions.
Murray, who was born in Chicago in 1940, studied
at the Art Institute of Chicago and then Mills College and moved
to New York City in 1967.
In his October 21, 2004 review of the exhibition
in The New York Times, Michael Kimmelman wrote that "Her
inclination has been to nudge painting toward relief sculpture:
to concoct and combine panels and shaped convases that teem with
goof incident and stuff." "what results can look as
rickety as an old jalopy. Paint pools, congeals and drips. sides
and edges of canvases stay unfinished, like the backs of stage
props, openly belying their ostensible illusions," he correctly
"That the Modern is now devoting its first
show by a living painter in its redesigned museum to Ms. Murray
is, among other things, proof of how modernism is renewed every
once in a while by strong-willed, adulterating figures like her,"
Mr. Kimmelman wrote, adding that "You're left with the sense
of an artist in the flush of her authority and still digging deep."
Mr. Kimmelman remarks of the "sheer chutzpah
of Ms. Murray's maturity," and, indeed, her sumptuous and
exciting works are full of agita.
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