UMMA exhibit pairs minimalist and contemporary art

By Francesca Kielb, For The Daily
Published November 13, 2014

You don’t have to be a woman, or an artist, to feel the unifying sentiment behind this exhibit. Each work was created by a different artist, with a broad range in scale and materials. One piece is woven with string to create patterns on a large canvas, while another is a 3D block painted in geometric shapes.

UMMA Dialogue: Two Generations of Women Minimalist Painters


Through January 25, 2015
3-4:30 p.m.

University Museum of Modern Art
Free


“Reductive Minimalism: Women Artist’s in Dialogue 1960-2014” is an exhibit at UMMA, running through Jan. 25. The concept behind the exhibit, curated by University alum Erica Barrish, was to pair minimalist paintings from the movements’ origins in the 1960s, with works from its contemporary resurgence. The exhibit contains nine pairs of paintings, each focusing on a specific element that both old and new artists explores. The pairings draw attention to the common ground these women artists share despite generational and cultural differences.

Barrish, former Director of Sales for the Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York and a long time art specialist for Christie’s Auctions and Private Sales, is the guest curator of the exhibit. On Nov. 16, from 3-4:30 p.m., both she and Alison Gass, associate director for Exhibitions, Collection and Curatorial Affairs at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, will be speaking at UMMA regarding this exhibit.

Barrish’s study of fine arts and art history at the University prepared her well for the different facets of the art world.

“My early education as a studio artist has allowed me to work today in the commercial marketplace identifying with working artists as well as working with historical material,” Barrish said. “While art history at Michigan has allowed me to speak the vernacular that has helped me academically, but also commercially.”

As the curator, Barrish built the conceptual structure from which the exhibit evolved. Once she knew the themes of the exhibit, it was a matter of finding and accessing works that would form the exhibit. This process is often why exhibitions take so long to come to fruition. From start to finish, Barrish estimated it took her two and a half years to compile all the elements of this exhibit.

“Part of being a curator is knowing where the bones are buried, and not in the obvious places. That takes a career of being in the marketplace. You see things that people don’t know exist,” Barrish said.

The treasure hunt proved to be especially challenging for this exhibit because she needed to gather works from two separate periods of art. In addition, each piece needed a comparable work from a different period, meaning that matching complementary pieces was crucial. The original female minimalists did not receive the commercial success that modern female minimalists have received, making Barrish’s knowledge of the art market’s evolution even more valuable. Barrish elaborated on the process of finding themes to explore in exhibitions.

“It starts by wondering why there were certain voids in a collection, then looking at other institutions’ collections and looking at what their voids were … they were remiss at some of the historical material."

Though the search and acquisition process was extensive, knowing when to cut was equally important in the building process. Originally Barrish had over a hundred pieces in mind, and eventually whittled it down to 18 works, making nine pairs. This selectivity allows for both a greater focus on each piece and amore streamlined experience for the viewer.

Barrish purposefully sought out work made by a broad spectrum of artists. For one artist, Svenja Deininger, it was her first show in the United States. Barrish’s experience as the former Director of Sales for the Marianne Boesky gallery exposed her to young talent throughout the world.

“Coming from a commercial vantage point with a historical background has allowed me to understand the seismic shift she has presented as a painter and also (to understand) that she is somebody worth paying attention to,” Barrish said.

Barrish stressed that the pairs in which the artists were not only living during different times, but in different places, were often the most successful. For example, artist Shirazeh Houshiary, an Iranian artist, is the only Middle Eastern artist in the show, and her work is juxtaposed with Sally Hazelet Drummond, an American artist who rose to prominence in the 1950s.

“When you look at her (Houshiary’s) work in comparison to Sally Hazelet Drummond, who is as American as you could possibly get, there is no question that those woman are speaking exactly the same language about syncopated brushstrokes and tactility of surfaces,” Barrish said. “Not only are they separated by several generations, they are separated by continents, and their work couldn’t be more synergy. For me that’s one of the strongest comparisons in the entire exhibition.”