Playing, or harping, upon Clement Greenberg’s influence upon our mid-20th century’s modernism art scene, the first exhibition in the new temporary home of the Art Gallery of Alberta asks prominent local artists to render their representation of Greenberg’s idea of the “flat” surface.
The theory goes:
“From Giotto to Courbet, the painter’s first task had been to hollow out an illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface. One looked through this surface as through a proscenium stage. Modernism has rendered this stage shallower and shallower until now its backdrop has become the same as its curtain . . . we may feel a certain loss. It is not so much the distortion or even those spatial rights which images used to enjoy back when the painter was obliged to create an illusion of the same kind of space as that in which our bodies move. This spatial illusion, or rather the sense of it, is what we may miss even more than we do the images that used to fill it.”*
Greenberg’s influence and his relationship with Edmonton continues thirty decades later as one both revered and uncovered. For those who know (or care), the tradition of modernism continues on in all its esoteric magnanimity. For the rest, the comprehension of the city’s aesthetic remains apathetically endearing and completely void of context. With “Flat,” one hopes to shed some light on why Greenberg still matters when discussing contemporary art--in Edmonton and elsewhere.
From the basic and inevitable representation of flatness, portraying the surface of objects everyday and erudite, to its conceptual configuration, the underlying theme emerging from this group exhibition hinges on balance: balancing the tense compression of the flat line. There is a bound energy in most of these pieces, one that is often found in modernist pieces, a tepid restraint of great discernment.
The most interactive piece, Catherine Burgess’s, situates a small boulder adjacent from its apparent 2D shadow with only a U-shaped steel post acting as a double-sided frame. Looking into the frame from either side, whether from the 3D real object or from the void flat circle of a shadow, what is most clear is that the frame is not a mirror for reflection, but a portal into a completely other realm. The boulder and its supposed shadow are not mirror opposites; they are different shades of the same matter. That is, or was, the goal of modernism: to emerge into a new world, and not to reflect the existing and exhausted one we live in.
“Flat”, April 13 - May 27, 2007
Allen Ball, Catherine Burgess, C.W. Carson, Jim Corrigan, Peter Hide, Ryan McCourt, Daryl Rydman, Mitchel Smith, Arlene Waslynchuk, Barbara Astman, Aganetha Dyck, Jules Olitski.
*Clement Greenberg, ”Abstract, Representational, and so forth,” from Art and Culture (Boston: Beacon, 1961), pp.133-138, from a paper delivered in 1954, reprinted in Theories of Modern Art, ed. Herschel B. Chipp (Los Angelas: University of California Press, 1968).