3 Square Art Exhibition / Abstract-Non-Objective 2020

Bonnie Lebesch - Gold “Variation A/15”
Sergio Nates - Silver “Deconstruction #71”
Todd Brugman - Bronze “Automatic Gravity”
Jupp Soetebier - Honorable Mention “Wise would seem the breaker of rings if he would eat the gleaming heart”
Lili Francuz - Honorable Mention “Polarity”

I hope the audience and participants for this exhibition might forgive the length of this statement in favor of what might be an opportunity to nurture additional discourse and reflection about the subject of Non-Objective Abstract Art.

More than a century of art, literature and scientific inquiry, has provoked BIG questions about our understanding of what the physical universe is… and what Art is - even in very basic, concrete and everyday terms. The sciences have insistently offered us, ongoing, inconvenient but irrefutable proofs of Evolution, Quantum, Relativity, Entropy, Chaos Theory and many other interrelated paradigm constructs. I would argue that these proofs carry profound implications in how we are allowed to think about meaning in our lives, in our beliefs, politics, priorities and our art. Non-Objective Art was one of the most forceful artistic expressions of the many radical 20th Century ideas, leading us to the present.

Yet, we often still cling to static, empirical notions of time, perception, space, physicality, gravity and other elemental measures of our relationship to nature and society. Our current (too widespread) deficit of understanding, about these established proofs and their implications for our art and perception, makes this exhibition especially timely. It invites us to reacquaint ourselves with our own intellectual history. Non-Objective Abstract Art (NOOBAA) was – and is – a vital part of that unfolding story.

What, then, are the implications in the great discoveries of the 20th and 21st Century that are important, especially for Non-Objective artists to understand? Obviously, it would be impossible to provide a full list with explanations in a statement such as this. So, I offer a few propositions that underlie the development of Non-Objective Art with little but the sparest reasoning. I list them in the hope that they might prompt further conversation, dedicated inquiry and illuminate some of my criteria for the exhibition selection process as follows:

1.     The Realities of Nature and the humanly observed physical world are not equivalent. Reality is best understood (and observed conceptually), by researching the most primary and elemental (mathematical?) phenomena of nature. Over the decades, this applied (Scientific) process has proven nature to be highly counter-intuitive. Hence, by extension, art too - if it was to be consistent and honest - was required to investigate the most elemental visual qualities and interactions of line, shape, color, context, etc., in order to visually explore and describe a world governed by those same scientific or parallel, principles and natural laws.

2.     All things are relative and interactive, even time, space, mass (gravity), and our perceptions of them. Another way of saying this is: Everything is embedded in the fabric of a “Time-Space Continuum”.  And further, that, in nature at least, there is no constancy and no hierarchy of significance

Because we have found the universe to be vast and deep beyond our technological and existential ability to know it, mystery is a primary condition of human experience and our relationship to all things. Thus, nature’s macro- and micro-cosmic limits carry humbling implications into our everyday lives as well. As Marcel Duchamp, an artist of influence far beyond his own time, once quipped: “Even when it comes to the still-life on the table, we don’t know the half-of-it”. Therefore, too, ultimate meaning and purpose is uncertain and implicitly unknowable. (See the book: Pictures of Nothing by Kirk Varnedoe, Princeton U. Press.) Consequently, the sensation of mystery is a common, thematic presence in non-objective art.

3.     We can never be outside of the “reality matrix” that we are bound in and can observe only from within. So, while practical, the frame is a somewhat obsolete, and largely misinformative device for descriptively encrypting the true nature of things. In non-objective painting, for example, size is often greatly increased so-as-to become a visual field that psychologically surrounds the viewer rather than a frame or window that he or she looks through, into a separate, objectified and disconnected, pictorial space. This understanding also requires new art to function more as an object of direct experience rather than one that explicitly re-presents other external objects and events, as such. Note: I argue that this does not necessarily invalidate representational art per se, but it does impose new principles and thinking on how “content” can be constructed, presented, framed and understood.

4.     Psychology has shown us that our capacity for memory, self-observation and thought, even at their best, is greatly limited in contrast to the vast complexity of time and ongoing circumstances. Hence, our fragile understanding and grasp of the world’s events and things is, by nature, often highly random, fragmented and incomplete (though we may feel about it as quite the opposite). We see this sense of Fragmentation and Incompleteness as reoccurring compositional themes in NOOBAA.

5.     “Chaos” and “Chance” are the primary and overriding conditions of nature, not “Order”. These more recently understood phenomena (See Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick, Penguin Books) have emerged in direct contrast to 19th Century Enlightenment notions of order as the underlying principal of nature. While the concept of “Order” was not negated by Chaos Theory, it did re-circumscribe it within a larger cosmological context. This aspect applies more broadly to the other propositions as well.

This, of course, is a “Short List” of concepts that played a role in my selections for this Exhibition; there are a number of others and some that simply relate to “Quality of Execution,” “Originality’” “Vision,” “Expressive Sensitivity” and so on. And no one should take the above criteria too literally. An orderly composition in a painting, for example, does not necessarily imply an orderly condition in the world. You will see, too, that a few selected works do not, strictly speaking, fall into the category of NOOBAA. But, while more peripheral, they simply were compelling, expressively consistent and strong enough, as works in themselves, to not be excluded. And finally, I mention a work that clearly violates the technical assumptions of Non-Objective work. I’m speaking, of course, about the “Golden City”, the gold computer “Mother Board” assemblage with small cars and other miniature objects.  Yes, it is referential (to various concrete things). But in the larger sense it is much more a dynamic reference to a new pseudo-spatial reality in which we all find ourselves; that of cyberspace. I include it because, to that extent, I think the artist is onto something here. And most all the work submitted was worthy of artistic merit, so it was a great pleasure to see the sheer scope and achievement of the participants. 

David Reif