Sunday, June 11, 2017

Marfa Intrigue at Octavia Art Gallery

In 1979, the great minimalist sculptor, Donald Judd, bought a derelict army base near Marfa, Texas, so he would have space for his work. After his death, Marfa became an unlikely art center  despite its remote desert location. Minimalist art can be elusive, I mostly ignored it until I worked at the Museum of Modern Art in New York – an intriguing city so crowded, noisy and complicated that it made me intensely crave simplicity and space. So much so, that I suddenly came to like minimalist art. And I also suspected that Judd, who was from a small Missouri town, came to crave space and simplicity so much that it influenced both his art and his move from New York City to the empty desolation of Marfa. 

His aesthetic descendants there reflect a related reductive approach that is somewhat more complex, or even decorous. Michael Phelan's paintings hint at Frank Stella's stark 1960s striped canvases that sometimes recalled Judd in two dimensions, but Phelan's provide a contrasting, origami-like twist. Martha Hughes’s vibrant compositions explore how geometric modern designs transform products into color-coded alternate realities that she distills into intriguing self-contained abstractions -- though she sometimes reprises more classic minimalist approaches as we see in Terrace and Pool, above. Charles Mary Kubricht’s shadowy black, white and gray graphics like Imperceptible Affinities, top left, suggest geometric realms where distant asteroids and subatomic particles beam their mysterious influences almost invisibly into everyday earthly life. Ann Marie Nafziger's sensuously loopy paintings like Toward the Over There, above left, reduce landscapes to lush, opulently abstract brush strokes that evoke how a delirious Franz Kline might have interpreted Monet's garden -- a display of audacity that might have contributed to her election as mayor of Marfa. Prolific artist Sam Schonzeit grew up near Judd’s New York studio and says Marfa reminds him of Soho in the 1970s, a remark that suggests a truly boundless imagination. Leslie Wilkes colorful paintings embody a schematic psychedelic minimalism in canvases like P16.02, top, works that evoke the meditative realms of inner space while hinting that light itself might be a form of intelligent life emanating from the depths of the universe. ~Bookhardt / Marfa Intrigue: Group Exhibition of Works in Oil, Acrylic and Watercolor, Through July 29, Octavia Art Gallery, 454 Julia Street St., 309-4249.
See Also: When Walter Hopps Met Frank Stella and Andy Warhol