Edge of Abstraction:Good works, strange commentary

The generally fine show at EPMA called Edge of Abstraction which opened Sunday has an intro which contains my new favorite nonsensical statement about abstract art: “The fact remains that abstraction has an edge whose indefinable meaning cannot be denied.”  What?!

This show contains works culled from the museum’s own collection, and it is especially gratifying to see works which the museum owns but which space limitations mean are rarely seen. The exhibition shows a healthy collection of various examples of late 20th century non-representational art. There are constructions, op-art, sculpture, and  abstract expressionist work among others. Strangely some of the work seems curiously dated-perhaps fresh in its time of creation, a response to then current art ideas, but now a bit quaint, while other works, for example a life-size sculpture of two figures playing cards, remains fresh. It does provide a decent overview of many of the trends which we have all explored over the latter part of the last century. and the first years of this one.

I do have a bit of a problem with the lumping of everything non-representational into the abstraction category, however.  I know that strictly speaking this category might be true-almost everything, I suppose ,might be considered an abstraction. In the gallery guide to the show we have the following question and answer: How old is abstract art?  Answer:  ancient people made abstract art. Well, yes, but…. I see that Wikipedia points this out as well as viewing the abstraction basket as a kind of catch-all term for virtually everything. But ultimately this isn’t terribly useful to the average museum-goer. Abstraction in art can, and probably should, be seen as distinct from the term abstract art, particularly in the context of this show, whose works all come from after 1950. Many of these works were exploring diverse themes or concepts popular at the time of composition, often totally unrelated to each other or to the theme of abstract art for that matter. In some cases there is a deliberate attempt at abstraction, while in others there is something else going on entirely. By throwing them into the same pot, there is linkage which can be rather misleading. Generally it seems to me there is the generic term abstraction in art, which can simply mean everything which is not a realistic representation, and the term abstract art as a category, which refers to a more specific western school of art popular in  the  middle of the 20th century, though with antecedents stemming from much earlier. This might seem merely academic, but museum-goers here do want to know what they are looking at, and they need a somewhat more complete picture. -david sokolec

On the other hand, they can lust look at and enjoy the artworks and that might be the best thing. -david sokolec

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