This spring, Picker Art Gallery is featuring four exhibitions that are all dramatically dynamic and yet vastly different from one another. Ranging from 18th century London to as modern as 2000, these displays were created to either deceive the eye, engage the imagination or tell a story. As a visitor makes his way through the gallery, he may feel the powerful effects of these various images if, as curator Joachim Homann advises, he spends some time with them.
“This gallery rewards you when you not only look at individual pictures, but see how they all resonate with one another,” said Homann. “The more often you come back, the more you see that.”
Homann’s choice to show Albert Wong’s exhibition, “Trompe l’oeils,” was slightly more personal. The two were friends in El Paso, where Homann taught at the University of Texas at El Paso for three years while curating exhibitions.
“[Wong] shared some of his personal background with me, and the more I learned from him as a person and the more I looked at his art, the more intrigued I was,” Homann said.
Wong is a descendant of the last head librarian of the Emperor of China. His grandfather worked in the rice fields during the revolution, and his father was the first to leave Mainland China. Wong began teaching in the U.S. after his family moved to Canada.
“It’s such a migration story, and I think that so much of it is in his images,” Homann said. “Yet, they’re so still that you really have to spend time with them to come to that very personal thing within them.”
The watercolors are painted in a style that gives them the illusion of photographic reality. They suggest the physical presence of simple elements, such as pieces of paper taped onto the sheet, yet closer inspection reveals a dialogue between current political conflicts and ancient religious concepts.
Another exhibition is a four-piece compilation of drawings by Dennis Oppenheim, an artist and sculptor who sketched his sculptures that were shown in the late 1970s and early 1980s so as to preserve their image once they were dismantled forever.
The show, titled “Imaginary Machines,” explores using technology to explain the intangible processes of the human mind. His own titles for the machines suggest the conceptual layers that went into the designs. One sketch is titled “Impulse Reactor – A Device for Detecting, Entering, and Converting Past Lies Traveling Underground and in the Air.”
The Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute donated one of the pieces. Additional Oppenheim works were discovered last summer in the collection. The sketches were undocumented, and Homann is not sure when the gallery came into possession of them.
“They kind of appeared before I came,” he said. “I’m not sure about the details. They were given in 1998, but that’s all we know.”
Also on display are a series of prints made by William Hogarth in 1747 titled “Industry and Idleness.” The etchings tell the simultaneous stories of two apprentices in 18th century London, one lazy and the other hard working. They chronicle the steady rise of the good apprentice in society, and the rapid downfall of the sinful one. Hogarth said that the purpose of his work was meant “for the use and instruction of youth.” Indeed, many employers of the time favored them as Christmas presents for their young apprentices.
The final exhibition is titled “War Fallout: Mid-century Modernism in the Luther W. Brady Collection.” This series of works illustrates the impact of abstract expressionism on the art movements of the post-war period in 1940s America.
Among the featured artists is Hans Hoffman, whose work was shown in 1944 at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery before Luther W. Brady came into possession of it. The pieces being shown currently are “Untitled (Seated Woman),” “Untitled,” and “Apparition.” Although the first mentioned clearly outlines the image of a woman, all are abstract and intentionally ambiguous, lacking outline and exuding spontaneity. As Homann explained, Hoffman’s work was meant to engage the eye and allow the imagination to debate the subject of the painting.
Works by Robert Motherwell, Jules Olitski, Frank Stella and Edna Andrade continue with these themes of abstract expressionism in the wake of World Wars I and II. They are individually moving and collectively lucid.
“The way I installed it,” said Homann, “I tried to create a communication between the shows, having some pieces speak to the space, and some in the immediate context. Because of the architecture of the space, it’s like a puzzle.”
The spring exhibitions at the Picker Art Gallery will run through April.