EXHIBIT:"Vermont Collections," works by 24 regional and international artists from the collections of 16 Vermont institutions. Helen Day Art Center, Stowe. Through August 27.
ARTWORK:"Red and Black" by Kenneth Noland
In celebration of its 25th anniversary this summer, Stowe's Helen Day Art Center has accepted "presents" from other institutions around the state. Sixteen public facilities were invited to contribute art acquired or created during the last quarter-century. Guest-curated by Paul Gruhler and comprising works by 24 individual artists, this unprecedented group exhibition is entitled simply "Vermont Collections." As it happens, this is also the final exhibit under the 6-year term of Executive Director Mickey Myers -- she's leaving next month for a like role at the Bryan Memorial Gallery in Jeffersonville. Myers' swan song in Stowe is a paean to American Modernism, and includes prints, paintings and sculpture by some of the most important artists of the late 20th century.
One of them, German-born Josef Albers, was more than a painter; he was also one of the great theorists of American art. His "Red on Red" series of four silkscreen prints, from the collection of Bennington College, is a prime example of his work. Albers conjured squares within squares of closely keyed colors that seem to vibrate within each other. "Red on Red" consists of 12 different shades of that color, three in each of the prints, which collectively generate blinding chromatic harmonies.
Jules Olitski is a classic color-field painter who works on a monumental scale. His 12-foot-high vertical canvas entitled "Flaming On" can occupy a viewer's entire field of vision. Like Albers, Olitski focused on red in this piece, but his variations flow seamlessly across the picture plane. Slivers of green, isolated at the upper and lower left corners, activate the fiery veil of red.
Kenneth Noland's mixed media on handmade paper, entitled "Red and Black," also plays with the hottest primary color. It's an irregular shape, like half a shortsleeve shirt with one sleeve at right. Noland contained a few lines within the black area, contrasting the openness of the red; this makes the piece's modest scale seem more expansive.
Bennington is known for having one of the strongest ceramics departments in the country, and Karen Karnes' stoneware vessel comes from that collection. The mimimally titled "Pot" has a graceful amphora shape, with four bands of varied texture connecting to a broad handle on top.
The Olitski, Noland and Albers works are among contributions from Bennington's impressive collection; so are pieces from the Mimimalist painter-sculptor Ellsworth Kelly and sculptor Beverly Pepper. In fact, more than a third of the works in HDAC's exhibition are lent either from Bennington College or by individual artists once affiliated with it. Perhaps not to be outdone, St. Michael's College lent prints by Henry Moore and Robert Motherwell. Seeing such a collection of modern masters in one spot is a rare treat for Vermonters.
Among the show's contemporary artists who are still actively exhibiting in the Northeast are Carol E. S. MacDonald of Colchester and Burlington painter Lance Richbourg. Their pieces are on loan from the University of Vermont's Fleming Museum.
Richbourg's "Mad Dog" is executed in a chaotic welter of multiple hues on raw white paper. The slashing oil lines that describe the crazed canine seem as violent as the dog's demeanor. MacDonald's "Beach Drawing I" is more peaceful. Sand and surf meet on a steep, 60-degree angle in her tall, vertical oil-on-paper abstraction. Small and colorful abstract toys seem to be scattered across the brown beach, and an almost invisible line drawing of a female face hovers over the scene.
The oldest painting in the show is a 19th-century cityscape by Thomas Waterman Wood, founder of the T. W. Wood Gallery in Montpelier. His "View of Main Street Montpelier" is a vertically oriented vista looking downhill through leafy branches. The painting seems deceptively newer: It's a jumbled composition that anticipates regionalist social realism of the 1930s. Several of Wood's tree trunks, however, have become semitransparent over time, and the painting's evident need of cleaning and restoration attests to its antiquity. Such are the expensive challenges every public collection faces in preserving its fine-art heritage.