january 18, 2004

This is turning into more of a review log than I intend but it is nice to keep track of what I have been seeing. Here is the one I have been mulling on.
A week ago I went to the Frye Museum to view the Bo Bartlett show. I was both surprised and pleased with what I found.

Even though I grew up in the area I had never stepped foot in the Frye.

After my first 10 minutes in the building I was particularly mortified by that fact. It is a beautiful and stately facility. It has an impressive 19th century Munich School collection in its permanent holdings among other turn of the century offerings . The art is hung in ample, breathable viewing spaces which were surprisingly filled up with visitors that afternoon. The fact that remained most impressive though was knowing part of The Frye’s mission is keeping the museum free to every one, every single day it is open.

What’s not to like? The truth is 12 years ago or so I wouldn’t have appreciated much about this “Little Jewel on the Hill”. I had no interest as to any art form previous to the year 1945 and the effort would have been entirely wasted.
I am pleased to know you can outgrow your own personal tunnel vision.

I specifically made the trip this day to see the current travelling exhibit Bo Bartlett’s Heartland. I’d discovered Bo’s work at the P.P.O.W.  gallery in New York and had always found myself looking forward to another show of his there. I didn’t really think I would get a chance to see an exhibit of his now that I am back on the West coast*.

My love for Bartlett is funny. It was originally hard to put my finger on what engaged me so fully about his paintings. Everything in his work seems a recipe of contradiction to what usually draws me. The works appear at first glance saccharine and melodramatic, their subject matter painted in a heroic school of realism style that can try too hard. This was all further amplified by a seal of approval from Andrew Wyeth, who I have never cared for.

None of my pre conditioning matters though upon viewing. Stepping into a room with these paintings I am struck by the buoyant color, the power of his figures set against stark backgrounds and I am taken by the sheer size of the works. Hints of malice subtly appear in the story lines; little indications that file down the sweetness of the subject matter.

The old adage that good painting is just that, and where is the point of categorizing something if you like it apparently works for me in this case.

My favorite painting in the show is the vast (134″ x 204″) Hiroshima.
I am not entirely sure what personal significance the subject matter holds to the painter. It is the only foreign landscape in the exhibit, the third work completing a trilogy about war. It is a beautiful and solemn meditation on Japanese field workers allegedly moments before the bomb strikes.

Many of the paintings in the exhibit I had seen previously. An opportunity to view them collectively though cemented my appreciation for both this painter and my new found Jewel on the Hill.

*new paintings I will be missing at P.P.O.W. open 2/04.