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Brilliant Optics: Seeing Is Being

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Independently curated exhibitions run the gamut from traditional and non-traditional venues, all genres of expression, and varying levels of sophistication. The Fort Wayne Museum of Art finds itself somewhere between the traditional "ruling curatorial department" and the use of independent curators, providing new and current insight into the institution's contemporary audience and its lifestyle. "Brilliant Optics," an exhibition of contemporary work by national artists, focuses on vibrant color usage, was curated for FWMoA by Josef Zimmerman.

Zimmerman's curatorial thesis includes statements like, "This exhibit revolves around a single word, color, a simple word but a complex theme. This concept was the guiding force for Zimmerman’s curatorial journey throughout the United States to find the most adventurous use of color by today’s artists." "Brilliant Optics'" references to color through the physiological process of seeing, the symbolic importance of color throughout human art and culture, and the growing importance of visual literacy in a modern world. Zimmerman continues by stating, "Color has the power to seduce us and the power to repulse us. What we know is that color can be a powerful symbol that plays a critical role our visual world. Color makes us love things we see or it can do the opposite. Like an upbeat song with heartbreaking lyrics, bright, bold color can dramatically alter how we perceive the subject matter of artwork.” This bold diversity and range of influence in color is a refreshing view on something that many times gets taken for granted in a world of post-conceptual studio practices.

"Brilliant Optics" includes the art work of Kristin Cammermeyer, Jeff Depner, Daniel Dienelt, Kay Gregg, Justin Miller, Dabs Myla, Michael Porten, Britt Spencer, Alex Ziv. Three artists, Dienelt, Gregg, and Miller have ties to Fort Wayne, while the others are from across the nation. These artists have much more than color in common, as their work tends to fit a dominant theme of "glossy, structured, referential.” This commonality speaks to these artists' development and focus on post-modern conceptual practices like pastiche, media-focus, and fearless use of ornament. These images contain a static quality of hovering meaning and presence. Zimmerman describes this feeling when stating, "A subtle, latent, kinetic energy is imbued into the work." Because of the curation of the exhibition, fitting it all into the most interior gallery within the museum, "Brilliant Optics" becomes a visual trap, reverberating off of the walls and within the space, forcing the viewer to compete with the interactions between the art itself. This communication between the pieces and the viewer becomes a secondary form of communication, outside of the meaning conveyed by the work, pulling the viewers eyes into visual chords when experienced at a distance. The interaction between Britt Spencer and Kay Gregg's work was especially interesting since their practices are so disparate, yet the combination of their images remained strong.

Kay Gregg's images "Pareidolia: Party Boom Box," "Pareidolia: Ghost Typewriter" and "Pareidolia: Royal Projector" were great to experience. Gregg is a Fort Wayne based artist working mostly in screen printing but branching out in this show to incorporate more complicated though still very layered and "print oriented" images of now defunct technology related to the dissemination of information and the increase of communication and expression, capable of producing environments for one to experience pareidolia. Gregg's work in "Brilliant Optics" focuses on the seen unseen, and our need to piece together meaning when possible. Pareidolia is defined as a psychological phenomenon when vague stimulus results in a perceived significance. This takes the form of seeing objects/faces in clouds, hearing hidden messages in records, and other patterns found in random data. Gregg's resulting imagery is a mix between Phillip Taafe's while abstracted pattern sourcing, orthodox icons, and contemporary street art. The neat, emphasized, golden schematic forms of the technology pieces (that each title describes) is hovering in a cloud of indecipherable patterns of bold color - the random in which we often see signs.

"Brilliant Optics'" return for Justin Henry Miller was also a great surprise. Miller was a former University of Saint Francis School of Creative Arts painting professor before leaving for Saint Louis where he is currently based. Miller's compromised images of augmented historical photographs and glossy monstrosities gives the exhibition a bit of dark humor. Miller's pieces include "Relic," "Men Are From Mars," "Duchess," and "Custer Fuct!" "Relic" is a beautifully rendered skull with horns attached, mushrooms growing out of it, and an odd sense of importance. It hangs with a content symbolic form between a mounted head of a hunted animal, and the tragic skull used in Shakespeare's Hamlet. "Men are From Mars" and "Duchess" are both altered historic photographs, where Miller pokes fun at the seriousness of the sitter's faces by painting over them. While certainly more light hearted, Miller's work never becomes cartoonish and in the case of this exhibition takes on a somewhat darker, melancholy expression.

Other artists and pieces of note include Daniel Dienelt's "Wild Kingdom" series (three pieces included in this exhibition) of large format experimental abstract photography, and Michael Porten's ridiculously retinal, psychedelic pieces "Boredom," "Need," and "Vice," which are solarized portraits veiled in Bridget Riley colored op art fields.

The development of independent curators within Fort Wayne's art scene is vastly important to its ability to grow, as these players connect artists to galleries, institutions, artists, and buyers outside of normal channels. The independent curator can work outside of Fort Wayne, taking locals with them, and infuse new life into certain types of work by bringing great examples back into the city with with. Thankfully, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art understands this and has the foresight to foster the development of this key group of individuals.

For More Information:
"Brilliant Optics: A Spectrum of Mediums and Color"
May 11-July 14, 2013

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.