Immanent Domain

A Berkeley show examines abstraction's spiritual side.

Modernist abstraction is usually seen in formalist terms — art
for art’s sake, devoid of outside referents. This idea, tirelessly
promulgated after World War II by critic Clement Greenberg, followed
the traditional Western preference for the ideal and abstract over the
messy and mortal; it also fit nicely into the new secular, suburban
consumerist world. By the 1970s, however, such aesthetic purism was
seen as patriarchal puritanism by dissident postmodernists. The artist
and writer Deborah Koppman (whose essay “Thou Art” critiques PoMo with
equal rigor), asked, in Reclaiming the Spiritual in Art: “What
if the spiritual were defined in terms of immanence rather than
transcendence? What if physicality were seen as embodying spirituality,
rather than as being separate from it? What if the divine were believed
to be immanent in nature, and if the earth were conceived of as a
physical and spiritual being, possessed of intelligence and
wisdom?”

Shock of the old! Abstraction began a century ago with utopian
motivations, as avant-garde artists sought to create personal yet
universal aesthetic religions. Metaphysical Abstraction,
a show featuring works by well-known local artists Jamie Brunson,
Freddy Chandra, David Ivan Clark, Lori del Mar, David O. Johnson, David
King, Keira Kotler, Michelle Mansour, Jenn Shifflet, Hadi Tabtabai, and
Alex Zecca, attempts to correct the intellectual and philosophical
denaturing of abstraction over the past three generations by
expropriating undermanned Formalist-held territory. The show’s small
catalogue, with essays by art historian Mark Levy, is helpful in
explaining context. While curators Brunson and Mansour find formal
commonalities in the art — “luminosity and atmosphere, structure,
spatial depth, and a sense of location; shifts from microcosmic to
macrocosmic scale; formal elements including line and color; layering
and repetition; refined surface qualities; and meticulous facture”
— they also see the works acting as portals between different
realms — as liminal, transitional spaces, or spiritual
catalysts.

A few highlights: Brunson’s shimmering painting “Weave,” its nearly
invisible lattice a presence without center or boundary; Clark’s
landscape paintings on stainless steel, all horizon and sky, emerging
from lengthy painting and sanding, deposition and removal; Johnson’s
minimalist sculptures, Zen paradoxes — heavy concrete cubes
surmounted by fragile, luminous handles; King’s collages, linking
microcosm and macrocosm; Mansour’s iconic depiction of interpenetrating
matter and energy; Shifflet’s dreamlike dawn-of-time pondscapes;
Tabatabai’s immaculately crafted grids of wood, thread, paint, and wax;
and Zecca’s colored-ink mandalas. Koppman, again: “To be human means to
be embodied; this life, this body, this earth, is in itself sacred.”
Metaphysical Abstraction runs through November 29 at Berkeley
Art Center
(1275 Walnut St., Berkeley). 510-644-6893 or BerkeleyArtCenter.org

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