Contemporary Artists vs. The Masters: Homage, Battle, Reclamation

March 19 - June 13, 2016

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion.” T. S. Eliot

Whenever I make a studio visit, I always glance around searching for a wall of postcards, pages torn from magazines, and posters of “masterpieces” mixed in with other visual information. It’s always there—a wall of inspiration. Most artists do not directly represent artworks that serve as their touchstones, but an astonishing array of visual artists quote from or reinterpret seminal works by their artistic forebears. Exploring the ways in which contemporary artists and, by extension, viewers engage with art history is enriching both aesthetically and culturally.

One needs to ask why—Why this particular work? Why now? What fresh insights are there to be found? What is it about the original that so captured this artist’s imagination? Is it purely a formal visual response? Is it a cultural response? Or perhaps a social critique? What did the original work signify during the time of its creation—to its creator, to its viewers? What does it signify to me today?

The artists in this exhibit confront acknowledged masterpieces and translate them anew. Borrowing freely from the art historical canon, each breaks new ground and creates richly nuanced, unique works of art.

Eric Aho, Ross Bleckner, and Cathy Osman make direct compositional references to paintings by Rembrandt, Monet, and Cole, but their distinct mark making and palettes, along with their abstraction of content, breathe new life into the tradition of landscape painting. Pam Glick, Mimi Gross, and Richard Jacobs do formal battle with the paintings of Velázquez, Poussin, and Picasso, deconstructing and reconstructing painterly and structural elements.

Babette Bloch, Kate O’Donovan Cook, and Sam Jury bring contemporary materials, media, and constructs to bear on their reinterpretations of van Gogh, daVinci, Manet, Duchamp, and Vermeer. Josef Fischnaller and Matt Mattingly display delightful senses of humor in their approaches to Velázquez, Ingres, Man Ray, and Magritte.

Taner Ceylan and Yasumasa Morimura delve into the complex relationships between sitter and artist, viewed and viewer, image and identity, by reexamining and extending work by Ingres and Velázquez.  

— Mara Williams, Chief Curator