Friday 2 June 2023

Review by Robert Richardson of "Virtual Exhibition No. 12: Art Research Center/A.R.C. Group 55th Anniversary Exhibition," 22 May - 18 June 2023

For a visual arts group to be in existence for fifty-five years is itself an achievement, and this is celebrated by the Art Research Center/A.R.C. Group with a superb online exhibition, which also becomes ‘Virtual Exhibition No. 12’ on the website. In contrast, this website, founded by the Turkish artist Erdem Küçükköroğlu, began recently, in 2020, at the outset of the pandemic and its subsequent lockdowns, which hastened a greater movement towards online exhibitions.

The artworks of these nineteen A.R.C. members give a continuing vitality to Constructivism in the 21st century, and they are entirely suitable for viewing on screens. Constructivist art has never much depended on the relief qualities of paint, with a flat surface often being the aim (it is significant that many of the painters here use acrylic). This means when they are scanned and become digital, nothing much, in this respect, is lost, and, for the most part, an emphasis on bold compositions and colours means a screen becomes an excellent alternative canvas, with its light providing vibrancy.

Within the general adherence to Constructivism, this selection has a pleasing eclecticism: the dangers of being monolithic or didactic are avoided. As well as the adept curating of T. Michael Stephens, A.R.C. Founder and Constructivist artist and designer, and Erdem Küçükköroğlu, this is probably also helped by the other interests of the participants: in addition to 2D and 3D art, these include architecture, digital art, photography, poetry, collage, and sonic art. There is for sure a range of perceptual intelligence present in this exhibition. 

I am assuming the artists themselves nominated their descriptions on the virtual labels, and, in particular, find interesting that the German artist Anna-Maria Bogner chooses ‘Concrete Artist.’ This is of course a direct link back to the great Max Bill, the important school of design at Ulm, and the even more important Bauhaus. Although Constructivism originated in Russia, it was made truly international by the Bauhaus, not least because of its own diaspora, including Gropius and other leading figures moving to the United States. The A.R.C. group was founded in Kansas City, but the participants of this exhibition reflect this internationalism, coming from a number of counties: Argentina, Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Netherlands and USA.

A more common self-descriptor is ‘Systematic Painter (or Artist)’ and variants of ‘Structural.’ I am taking this to mean these artists are working with a system that is possibly adopted or of their own invention. One artist, Clifford Singer, is a mathematician, and I assume this informs his approach. What unifies is engagement with the basic Constructivist vocabulary of shape, line, colour and space. The creating of compositions in a systematic way is a sublimation of the individual in favour of the universal. Nevertheless devising (or choosing) a system and the aesthetic judgement on whether to accept or reject its outcomes means, paradoxically, that styles emerge. From encountering their art on social media, I now instantly recognise Judith Duquemin‘s own brand of using white space as an active compositional element, Joseph Buis’ scaffoldings of colour and T. Michael Stephens’  singular approach to working with constructions.

A more inclusive Constructivism overlaps with other Movements, particularly Minimalism, as with Rebecca B. Alston’s FDP RED #3 (2023). It consists of three squares: a small black one within a light red one, and both within the largest one, itself divided in halves of two darker shades of red. It is inevitable that Albers is referenced (and, for me, aspects of Enrico Castellani come to mind as well). The division of the largest square, offset against the other elements, creates a perceptual dimension all its own, and the fierce reds belie an accompanying meditative quality. Similarly, Jon B. Thogmartin’s Purple Dots & Yellow Circles (2022) is both Constructivist and Minimalist, with an emphatic rhythmic repetition.

There is of course much work that meets the Constructivism of lines, shapes and the geometric angles they make, and examples of exhibits that are “classically” Constructivist are Barbara Höller’s painting 19copy07 (2021) and William C. Bodenhamer’s assemblage Construct Aesthetics Inherent (n.d.).

The website is an effective pairing for this exhibition, and should be congratulated for creating an online environment with admirable clarity of navigation, presentation and labelling, and congratulations to Art Research Center/A.R.C. Group for showing a Constructivism that continues to look fresh. The dates of the artworks are recent, and this highlights the group is not a tedious custodian of Constructivist purity but contemporary artists adding their own perceptions and ideas.

The full list of artists is as follows: Rebecca B. Alston, Robert L. Blackman, Perrin Blackman, William C. Bodenhamer, Anna-Maria Bogner, Joseph Buis, Judith Cisneros, Paul Cremoux, Judith Duquemin, Herbert W. Franke, Barbara Höller, Gerda Kruimer, Roland E. Kuit, Jay Mandeville, Alexandra Roozen, Karin Schomaker, Clifford Singer, T. Michael Stephens, Jon B. Thogmartin. The link to the exhibition (ending 18 June) is hereThe link to the A.R.C. website is here.

About the reviewer
Robert Richardson is a visual artist, writer and lecturer. His work published by Leeds Postcards in the 1980s was distributed throughout Britain, and is now in graphic art collections of the British Museum and the Australian National Gallery. It is also included in Artists’ Postcards: A Compendium (Reaktion Books, London) and Leeds Postcards (Four Corners Books, London). In recent years he has put together an ongoing portfolio of abstract digital artworks, producing some as limited edition prints and others as NFTs. In 2022, a video artwork was selected for Digital Art Month Paris, and was viewed at various public spaces in the city. He is also the co-editor of Homage to Imagism (AMS Press, New York). His website is here.   

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