L'art Pour L'art Review
Art for Art’s Sake, Group Exhibition: A Review
December 5, 2021
By Kristen Beaulieu
In “L’art Pour L’art” at the Art House Gallery, curator Rebecca George brings together a group of 16 expressive, abstract works created by eight contemporary American artists. However, the title of show harkens back to France in the early 19th century when the rallying cry of “art for art’s sake” opened doors to all manner of artistic experimentation. It cleared the way for a new kind of art – abstraction -- relying entirely on the formal language of line, shape, value, color, and so on. But the philosophy of “art for art’s sake” never really displaced the view that art should powerfully shape how we feel and act. The push and pull between these two philosophies continue to inform the way we think about art, censorship, and self-expression even now.
In this exhibit, expression, experimentation, and abstraction is brought to life by diverse techniques including gestural marks, pours, layering, intentional drips, mixed media and so on. The artist’s hand is often evident in the finished paintings, and in that sense, the paintings are synonymous with the physical process that created them. For example, George’s magnificent Un-wilding shows evidence of the artist’s gesture with large scale tools. Daniel Martin Sullivan’s Lamentation, on the other hand, relies on pours achieving the sense of space and form by the saturated effect of paint into a raw canvas.
While clearly inspired by the romantic, bohemian sensibility of “L’art pour L’art,” there is a subtle dialogue between two artistic philosophies within the show’s main thematic undercurrent: the connection between audible and visual expression. In her Embracing the Quiet series, Hannah Seki explores how sound and silence can convey mood and meaning. Seki’s Can I Join You invites the viewer into “a dreamy world” with a challenge “to stop, accept, and embrace the quiet and calm.”
Wassily Kandinsky noted that music was the medium that lets us most easily express our inner lives and proposed that that a painter who seeks this kind of self-expression “naturally seeks to apply the methods of music.” In Ken Hogrefe’s waveform series of delicate 3D collages, you can almost see rhythm and the rising and falling of a melody. Melanie Brown’s exuberant works, Pink Percussion and Him Her were painted, quite literally, in response to music. According to the description, Him Her was “created during a live remote collaboration with Eric Mahle…Melanie applied acrylic paint, charcoal, and soft pastels using brushes, sponges, fingers, and pom poms in spontaneous response to the music of Eric’s voice and guitar.” Sarah J. Berman’s rich, bold, beautifully layered painting, Rock ‘N Roll makes the musical connection in the title.
Other works share the expressive nature of abstraction but also “speak to” issues of concern to the artists. Stasi Bobo-Ligon’s mixed media duo Tale of Two Sides references issues of race, equity, and the urban landscape in Chicago. Steven Tritt’s paintings about slaughtered bison express his concern about the harm we as humans do to the landscape, animals, and each other. These works blur the boundaries between the abstract formalism of self-expression and art with a purpose.
L'art Pour L’art is curated by Rebecca George and is live at thearthouse.us the month of December 2021 and available in the archive thereafter.
• Sarah J. Berman
• Stasi Bobo-Ligon
• Melanie P. Brown
• Rebecca George
• Ken Hogrefe
• Hannah Seki
• Daniel Martin Sullivan
• Steven Tritt