Contemporary art has evolved far beyond the classical European construct. Rather than adopting linear narratives, art has become tangential. The process of creation is often emphasized more so than creation itself. Artistic trends have become more daring as society gradually expands its conception of beauty. Through accepting the imperfect as beautiful, the definition of art is widened to encompass the unconventional, the abstract and even the perplexing.
The movement towards abstraction is logical. Stemming from the impressionist movement in the 19th century, abstraction is rooted in subjective interpretation. Anatomical correctness is, at times, sacrificed. Artists instead adopt a more personal and emotional response to their subjects and their material surroundings. The essence of the bodily form is championed over the prescribed rendering of a female nude. Attempts to order life forces and forms through geometric shapes are applauded. The use of bold colors on monumental multimedia canvases is encouraged. Essentially, abstraction is the acceptance of artistic experimentation. The traditional classical linear confines have been unshackled. Art is liberated and the artist is free to employ his artistic license. Abstraction fully involves the viewer; it forces one to simultaneously analyze and appreciate artistic creation.
The Rose Art Museum, located in Waltham on Brandeis University’s campus, offers a thought provoking collection of contemporary and abstract works. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., the Rose Museum is free to all visitors. Forewarning: transportation to the museum is difficult, as one must have access to a car or take the commuter rail. However, the collection of innovative contemporary art, which is both unique and educational, is worth the trip. The museum is offering exhibitions on Willem de Kooning and his abstract contemporaries (as in the museum’s exhibition “Painting Blind”) as well as an exhibition on the abstract expressionist painter Helen Frankenthaler (as in the exhibition “Pretty Raw”).
While intellectually stimulated by these exhibitions, I was drawn, in particular, to one of the museum’s recent acquisitions located in the main foyer. Mark Bradford’s mixed media collage on campus, “Father You Have Murdered Me”(2012), dominates the sightline. From a distance, the monumental canvas is aesthetically pleasing. Melding warm yellow hues with vibrant pinks and sea foam greens, the work is united by white and black hatched accents. The amalgamation of colors creates the illusion of calm. Initially, I interpreted the depiction as an abstract interpretation of nature, a modern colorful version of Monet’s famous water lilies.
However, upon approaching the work, the chaos underlying the calm façade is revealed. Bradford’s canvas is physically dense, the product of numerous superimposed layers. It simultaneously conceals and reveals; darkness hides behind the light, but its existence is not wholly disguised. The canvas requires the viewer’s full engagement. Its unusual combination of colors and media forces the viewer to consider the complex process of creation as well as the finished work. The mysterious canvas beckons the viewer by inviting them to deconstruct the beautiful façade to arrive at the painful core.
In “Father You Have Murdered Me,” the poles of light and dark — beauty and pain — comingle. The work can neither be clearly dissected nor narrowly classified. As noted by the artist himself in didactic material at the exhibition: “People are uncomfortable with [abstraction] … They want these really clear binaries. That linear thinking is a European construct, but history doesn’t happen the way that we read it.” Bradford’s work is an emotionally charged artistic representation of everyday phenomena. Refusing to create in accordance to a prescribed manner, Bradford embraces the artistic potential of abstraction. Rather than hiding the darkness, Bradford beautifies it. Just as history cannot be predetermined, the potential of abstraction cannot yet be quantified.