Sunday, February 13, 2011

Elements of Nature: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Collection at the Contemporary Arts Center


As a big time businessman and art collector, the late Fred Weisman embodied a classic American success story. Born in Minneapolis to Russian immigrant parents, he grew up in Los Angeles and eventually made a fortune in various businesses, amassing a major art collection along the way. In art as in business, his vision became bolder as he aged. These works reflect his interest in nature as well as the influence of imagism (and its international equivalents), an American style that fuses dreamy, psychological imagery into flamboyantly patterned compositions. Imagism evolved in the Chicago area as well as in California and Louisiana, where he often acquired work by local artists, a tradition continued by his widow and curator, Billie Milam Weisman. Few works look more at home here than Nola artist Robert Warrens' THROUGH THE REEDS painting of a scruffy mutt clutching a duck in its humanoid teeth.

Leaping over a pond like an oversized ashtray, the fluffy dog evokes toxic smoke in a petrochemical parody of a traditional hunting scene. Related irony appears in Chicago painter Roger Brown's SAGUARO'S REVENGE, above left, based on the true story of a drunken Arizona man who was shooting at a giant cactus when it fell over and killed him. Torben Giehler's MONT BLANC, top, patterned landscape painting suggests a parti-colored planet in a prismatic solar system in a techno take on the mystical geometry of Mondrian. The patterning in many imagist works signifies energy as we see in Andrew Schoultz' MAYHEM EXPLOSION, below, in which ancient warriors on horses appear in a vortex of arrows that suggests aggression reduced to orbital trajectories. But in Louisa Chase's abstract figurative painting ALL FIRE ALL FLAME, the fiery vortex is all about passion and its power to bind or tear apart, a reminder that creation and destruction involve related energies applied in very different ways. ELEMENTS OF NATURE offers an intriguing alternate route through recent art history while presaging the environmental turmoil facing us today.  ~Bookhardt

ELEMENTS OF NATURE: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Foundation, Through February
Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805;