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As part of the Cultural Encounter assignment, I chose to explore works displayed at the San Francisco Modern Museum of Art (SFMOMA) under the general admission. At the day of my visit in late June, such exhibitions as Approaching American Abstraction; Julie Mehretu’s HOWL, eon (I, II); and Elemental Calder were open. In the present reaction paper, I would like to discuss those three works that I witnessed at these exhibitions that impressed me the most. These works are the monumental pieces by Mehretu (2017), Alexander Calder’s Aquarium (1929), and Joan Mitchell’s Bracket (1989).
Julie Mehretu is a contemporary African American visual artist, working in the genre of abstract painting. Large-scale, multilayered landscapes can be regarded as her specialty and, during the exhibition at the SFMOMA, two pieces of this type were shown. The canvases with chaotic, black ink strokes on them look like pages torn out from enormous books, written in a language that is impossible to comprehend intellectually. However, the swirls of unrecognizable words provoke a strong visual impression and ignite curiosity, making one continue to screen through the surfaces of these pieces of art.
What is even more remarkable about Mehretu’s works is the story behind their creation. As I learned from the description of the exhibition by the SFMOMA and the video called “Julie Mehretu: Politicized Landscapes,” Mehretu painted with ink on the background of the blurred 19th-century paintings of the American landscapes and the photographs of modern riots, protests, and violence (“Julie Mehretu”).
The final product was the artist’s emotional response to and her reflection on the history of American politics and colonization, in particular. When aware of the context and theme in which the HOWL pieces were created, viewers can appreciate the canvases more. Nevertheless, I think that the placement of the paintings in SFMOMA was rather unfortunate since two columns blocked the view. Moreover, the paintings were located nearby the stairway, and the continual movement of people from one floor to another was a distraction.
Alexander Calder (1898-1976) was an American artist and a major contributor to modern art. He is now well-known for his innovative, abstract, and three-dimensional sculptures that influenced a plethora of other contemporary creatives. His creations are “poetic and gracefully formed,” and Aquarium is not an exception (“Alexander Calder”). The work is made entirely of a few pieces of metal wire, shaped like a big, roundish tank with fishes and seaweed inside. Although Aquarium is a sculpture, it resembles a drawing made in a cartoonish, jocose manner. Compositionally, the work is flawless and, in spite of comprising multiple elements, it looks organically and carefully thought-through. I genuinely enjoyed exploring Calder’s piece and liked the way it stirred my imagination.
For me, Bracket became a highlight during the visit of the Approaching American Abstraction exhibition. It was painted by Joan Mitchell (1925-1992), an American abstract expressionist and action painter, in 1989 (Art Story Foundation). The three-panel piece accommodates the stains of deep blue, orange, green, red, and yellow on the whitish background. The seemingly disorganized strokes do not have a definite form as such but rather depict a movement frozen in time.
Overall, I think that Bracket is one of a few paragons of abstract expressionism that reflect the true essence of the genre and serve its main purpose of conveying a powerful emotional content (“Abstract Expressionism”). Therefore, the piece is perceived like poetry or music and not as regular static painting. It tells a story that affects one’s senses and is subject to personal interpretation.
“Abstract Expressionism.” MoMA Learning. Web.
“Alexander Calder.” Artsy. Web.
Art Story Foundation. “Joan Mitchell – Important Art.” Art Story. Web.
“Julie Mehretu: Politicized Landscapes | Art21 “Extended Play.” YouTube, uploaded by Art21. 2017. Web.
“Julie Mehretu: HOWL, eon (I, II).” SFMOMA. Web.