Art Review by Leann Schneider
Entrancing, electric, elaborate, “Beauty Reigns: a Baroque Sensibility in Recent Painting” at the Akron Art Museum until May 3, 2015, is an enveloping art experience featuring 13 contemporary painters. The Baroque – a popular artistic movement in the 17th century – is sometimes unfairly scorned as overdone, gaudy, and fussy. While a baroque aesthetic is certainly ornate and elaborate, its art elegantly embodies emotion, movement, and space, all of which are present in “Beauty Reigns.”
Soaring baroque palace ceilings painstakingly frescoed with monumental sagas, ripe with buxom women, swirling fabrics, and gleaming gilt accents, hardly bring to mind the abstract sensibilities of contemporary paintings. Yet, the site-specific installation by Paul Henry Ramirez fills the first gallery space so monumentally one feels their attention moving ever skyward – as if in a baroque cathedral.
As Ramirez’s work of bright acrylic geometrics, referencing the human body, creates a visual atmosphere, an ethereal melody fills the space from the next gallery. The combination of sound and sight is an experience jackpot: the viewer is submerged in a complete sensory environment. Ramirez manages to master the baroque sensibility of space with finesse. Without individual wall-chats for each work it is easy to get lost in the visual adventure of “Beauty Reigns” and meander into the adjacent galleries, taking in the painted exuberance of each piece.
One especially mesmerizing work by Jose Alvarez can only be dubbed as psychedelic. The film, Altered States from 2011, features colorful motifs repeating a swirling mirrored dance with ever changing designs and colors. Here the Baroque’s emphasis on movement is evident; movement is also illustrated in Alvarez’s large painted piece, We Came from the Stars (2011), featuring billowing forms and a subtle narrative.
Juxtaposed to these energetic works are pieces of a more subdued, almost melancholy, nature. Featuring darker tones, heavy layering, and intentional paint drips, Fausto Fernandez’s canvases show an aggressive approach to contemporary painting. Love is What You Make it out to Be, a work centered on a cube frame with encrusted paint and mixed media glittering off the surface in dark shadows, might aggravate the viewer. The work’s title is seemingly unrelated to the painting at hand; however, it creates a small environment for the viewer with its complex layers. The baroque sensibility of emotion is captured.
Continuing through the exhibition, some works reminisce a 1960s or 70s aesthetic due to the use of hardedge painting, an emphasis on design, and extremely stylized motifs. Also included are forays into non-western culture with Jiha Moon’s explorations of her East Asian background and current Western lifestyle, as well as Brazilian Beatriz Mihaze’s print works, Canela (2010) and Açuar (2010).
Overall, beauty absolutely reigns in the gallery spaces, which offer murals of intense colors fused with flowing shapes and patterns. The museum also boasts the opportunity to see works by those painters of the modern tradition – Frankenthaller, Rothko, Louis, and Davis – whose work probably inspired many of the “Beauty Reigns” artists’ unorthodox painting techniques. As a fun addition, educators at the museum have provided an interactive space where guests of any age can create their own contemporary pieces with baroque sensibilities.
Repeated patterns, layers of shapes and colors, busy, elaborate canvases swelling with emotion and swimming with movement create a visceral space at “Beauty Reigns.” For anyone willing to give themself briefly to an immersive artistic experience, the Akron Art Museum has succeeded in providing an informative yet inspiring space of color and design through contemporary painting.
Leann Schneider is a graduate student at Kent State University pursuing an MA in Art History and an MLIS with a concentration in Museum Studies. She also works as a curatorial assistant at the Kent State University Museum. You can contact Leann at email@example.com.