Thursday, March 4, 2010

So Much to Enjoy, and So Much to Say

I came across a review of an exhibition of the work of Lionel Esteve in ArtReview Magazine online. The image of Lionel's piece, titled Picture Opened to Prism, stopped me in my tracks.

The picture shown above was from the magazine - a closer view of his piece. The colors just simply leaped off the screen.

Given that this is a sculptural "painting" using gelatin sheets and paper, not paint, I was struck by the creativity and craftsmanship of the work, and felt a kinship of sorts with the artist because I too am looking at color, form and light in a way that makes those formal issues central to my work.

The reviewer, Violaine Boutet de Monvel, had this to say about Mr. Esteve's exhibition, "...his craft - certainly delicate and sensitive - strikes first and last as absolutely decorative and light. Paradoxically, this is as much his failure as it is his strength. ...As much as they fail to inspire any reflection, they succeed in invoking a sense of beauty..." The reviewer goes on to describe a number of pieces from his exhibition, not pictured but which I wish I could see given the description, and then sums up the review by saying, "so much to enjoy, so little to say." If you'd like to see the whole article, go to the Artreview website and look for the Summer, 2009 issue.

This review is a perfect example of what I feel is a failing of the art world - and that is the tendency to dismiss the "decorative" as meaningless. The reviewer laments the lack of content in this extraordinary work. Now, maybe I'm missing something by not being in front of the actual piece, but even from an online image - I can find so much to see. Isn't that content enough??? Why is this "decorative" and why is "decorative" a pejorative description anyway. Why do critics require art to go beyond the sensual and move into other meanings like social criticism, political criticism, etc. I'm not saying that art which delves into those areas is not important. But what I am saying is that we seem to have lost the sense of appreciation of the physical impact of work when we have to search for more content. When art doesn't serve up more commentary it is dismissed as "decorative." Mr. Esteve's piece is superbly crafted and created with a clear sense of mastery over the formal artistic issues (shape, color, light, line, space, tension, etc.). It also happens to be beautiful. I find a tremendous amount of "content" in simply SEEING this piece. The human appreciation of beauty is a source of limitless "content."

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