New Addison Exhibit Embraces Contrast

Trapped in a black circle, a naked man contorts his body in an attempt to push his way out of his confinement in Robert Mapplethorpe’s “Thomas,” a series of four prints. The black-and-white palette highlights the man’s muscular body, hearkening back to the depictions of athletes on ancient Greek vases. “Thomas” is currently on display in “Light/Dark, White/Black,” a new exhibit at the Addison Gallery of American Art. “Light/Dark, White/Black” comprises approximately 100 paintings, sculptures, prints and photographs from the Addison’s permanent collection. Curated by Kelley Tialiou, Charles H. Sawyer Curatorial Assistant, and Allison Kemmerer, Head Curator of Photography and Curator of Art after 1950, the exhibit spans four rooms. Each room revolves around a visual theme: the first is “light and dark,” the second is “black,” the third is “white” and the fourth is “black and white.” Together, the exhibit aims to demonstrate the power and contrast of light, dark, black and white in a variety of etchings, paintings, sketches and statues. “The different media play a central role in illustrating the main premise of the show, namely, that our perception of light and white is conditional on the presence of dark and black respectively, and vice versa…. From subtle tonalities to bold contrasts, black and white allow artists to capture a moment, create mood and connote meaning, yet they also function as an effective language for meditative Minimalism and geometric abstraction,” wrote Tialiou in an email to The Phillipian. Judith Shea’s 1990 etching “Venus” is also displayed in the exhibition. The etching shows an arch under which a sculpture of a human stands next to the silhouette of a small, crisp-white dress. The two figures are surrounded by pitch black, creating a stark contrast with the white objects in the foreground. “The idea of a high-contrast background is not a new one; depicting a white torso in the classical style alongside a noticeably smaller-in-size, minimal white dress against the black backdrop, representing the continuum of time, most effectively conveys the evolution of ideal beauty from antiquity to the present,” said Tialiou. “Both sculpture and dress are lacking the identifying elements of a human being, especially the head and face; thus, [Shea’s] theme of femininity becomes both timeless and universal.” The exhibition also features three pieces from “Shadow in a Corner,” a series of black, steel sculptures by Carroll Dunham ’67. The metal in “Shadow in a Corner” has been molded into curling and sweeping shapes. The light of the gallery illuminates these abstract lines, creating geometric shadows. “The ‘Shadow in a Corner’ series adopts a cartoonish quality, with its exaggerated geometric and biomorphic forms enacting an untold storyline at once ominous and comedic, dark and light,” said Tialiou. Another piece in the exhibit is “Locus” by Dorothea Rockburne, who started her career in the late 1960s, in the midst of the Minimalist movement. “Locus” consists of four white pieces of paper sprawled out completely in their canvas, covered in lines and shapes that were created from previous folds. “Rockburne approaches white with reductivist intentions and uses it as a means of highlighting the intricacies of form. She is not trying to represent any spatial (architectural or otherwise) elements she has observed in the real world, but rather creates this ‘complex spatial system’ by folding the paper to define lines and planes,” said Tialiou. “Light/Dark, White/Black” is set to close on July 31, 2015.