Modern ‘Abstraction’: VACI finishes three-year series with examples from past two decades


Brian Smith | Staff Photographer

An untitled piece by Heather McGill appears in the foreground and several mixed-media pieces by Ani Hoovers hang in the background in a portion of the Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution exhibition “Abstraction in America, part III,” now on display at Strohl Art Center.


The “Abstraction in America” exhibition series is Don Kimes’ baby.

Kimes, artistic director of Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution, started a relationship two years ago with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y. Kimes, an abstract painter himself, worked with the gallery to bring a trilogy of shows illustrating America’s history of abstract art to the Institution, one show each season for three years in a row.

The third and final installment of “Abstraction in America,” featuring works from Albright-Knox’s permanent collection, opened last Sunday. The exhibition, along with the 56th Chautauqua Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Art and “Wood: On and Off the Wall,” is displayed in Strohl Art Center.

Janne Sirén, who served as the juror for the 56th Annual, said he once jumped out of an airplane for the Finnish Air Force, but he said he has still never encountered anything more dangerous than the life of an artist.

Being an abstract artist can be especially dangerous.

“Even though abstraction is probably the major American contribution to the visual arts in the 20th century,” Kimes said, “I still hear people make comments like, ‘Oh, a 5-year-old could’ve done that.’ ”

Upstairs in Strohl, almost hidden behind the wood show, sits an alcove filled with abstract art from the 1990s to the present. Kimes explained abstract art’s evolution, which he wanted to tell in three parts at the Institution.

Part I covered the 1940s through the ́60s, when abstract expressionism spread in America and artists experimented relentlessly. Part II traced abstraction’s maturation through the 1970s, as the style mellowed. Part III examines abstraction in the globally connected world.

“This show is sort of the ‘post-isms’ show,” Kimes said. “We haven’t had an ‘-ism’ in art in 20 years. The thing that’s different now is our total access to information across the board. It’s so much more pluralistic.”

“Abstraction in America, part III” has many admirers. Ira Cooperman, a seasoned Chautauquan who has now seen all three abstraction shows, especially enjoyed a small canvas titled “4.7.99” by Sean Scully. It features rows of squares painted in yellow, orange and red watercolors.

“It takes a while to get used to abstract art,” Cooperman said, “but one of the beautiful things is that the art is whatever you see, whatever you put into it. It’s not representational.”

Cooperman enjoys visiting the art galleries on the grounds because he believes in exposing himself to all four of the Institution’s pillars: education, religion, recreation and, of course, the arts.

Quinn McNichol, a painting student at the Institution, visited Strohl just a few hours after moving into her studio at the School of Art. In “Abstraction,” she really enjoyed Orly Genger’s large lithograph, “What It All Comes Down To.” The piece spanned the length of her outstretched arms.

“Far away, you just see all the lines,” McNichol said. “But up close, I like the collection of forms overlapping. They look like arms.”

George and Marcia
Reifsnyder also spent a good portion of time in front of Genger’s lithograph. The
Reifsnyders hadn’t been to the first two abstraction shows, but the couple was drawn to the gallery’s opening reception.

“It’s wonderful to have art around like this,” Marcia said. “We’re art appreciators.”