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Abstraction was a staple of art in the 20th century until it was rudely displaced by Pop Art in the 1960s. While abstraction took a secondary role for a time, it is once again popular with artists in the 21st century.
"Approaching Infinity: The Richard Green Collection of Meticulous Abstraction" at the Crocker Art Museum explores works of intricate complexity that deal with both microcosmic and macrocosmic abstract imagery.
Beginning with forerunners such as Mark Tobey, Yayoi Kusama, John Cage and Bruce Conner, the show traces the development of abstraction based on repetition and, in the case of Cage, chance operations.
One of the first works on view is a small, ethereal, atmospheric tempera on Japanese paper by Tobey, done in 1969, that exemplifies his "white writing," a kind of spiritual automatic writing that adds up to a transcendent abstraction. At the terminus of the exhibition is an intricately worked 2007 gouache drawing by Susanne Schossig, who is an inheritor of Tobey's style. Thus the exhibition seems to come full circle from its progenitors to those who have been influenced by them.
Along the way are works that exhibition curator Diana Daniels points out are seldom seen in Sacramento except in the pages of Art in America magazine. She was stunned to find such a collection in the hands of Green, who lives in Gold River.
Green writes in the exhibition catalog that at the turn of the millennium, he went from being a casual collector to one focused on "the boundless patterns and complexities of the physical world." His interests became metaphysical as well, focusing on the spiritual as well as the physical.
"What unites Richard Green's collection," said Daniels, "is his desire for dialogue between knowing and feeling the enormity of all existence. He has pointedly turned to artists who imagine and demonstrate for us the beauty of line, form and shape in their art as a means to expand and validate developments in a half-century of thought on our place in nature."
The exhibition Daniels has put together is quiet and cool in tone, with many works consisting of minute, repetitive markings that have subtle shifts in color. If you are one of those who think abstraction is easy, you should look at these works.
Some, like James Siena's "Non-Slice Variation" relate to recent scientific discoveries. His ethereal blue markings resemble fractals that create an image reminiscent of decoratively marbled paper.
The race to the moon informs Josaku Maeda's watercolor "Human, space" which turns the moon into an eyeball covered with spacewalk boots. Kusama, who has recently had exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Tate Modern in London and the Whitney in New York, offers a witty work titled "Fishes Listening to the Sound of Polka Dots," which, Daniels writes, questions "the meaning of self in relation to a vast and complex universe."
Ross Bleckner gets down to the cellular level in "Study for In Replication," an oil painting that looks inside the body at what might be intestines.
Stephen Antonakos covers vellum with dense, incised marks of graphite to make an intense field of black broken by red circles that suggest planets. Barbara Takenaga's "Blue Wheel (M-1)," an acrylic on panel, is a mandalalike representation of outer space, delicately linear and richly colored.
While most of the works in the show are unrelentingly abstract, Ed Loftus gives us an untitled graphite drawing on paper that looks like a photograph. In it a skeleton walks in a landscape with mountains and a lake, reminding one of the 18th century anatomist Albinus' illustrations of skeletons wandering in pastoral landscapes. It's so refined that you need a magnifying glass to see the abstract markings that make up the illusion.
Magnifying glasses, which the museum provides, are helpful in examining many of the works in the show. Green has also lent a decommissioned camera lens from a U2 spy plane through which one can see a fish-eye view of the show.