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Going Big

Joyce Kozloff, American, b. 1942, Up Front, Appollonian, 1972, Acrylic on canvas, Purchase, Louise Woodruff Johnston, class of 1922, Fund with assistance from Creative Artists Public Service, 1974.27 © Joyce Kozloff

Today’s post comes from Olivia Zisman, class of 2016 and Art Center Student Docent

On Friday, January 30, the Art Center’s current exhibition, XL: Large-Scale Paintings from the Permanent Collection, opened with a lecture by Joyce Kozloff whose 1972 painting Up Front, Appollonian hangs in the show. In her lecture entitled “Maps and Patterns,” Kozloff took the audience on a visual journey across states, countries, and continents as she gave an account of the various cultures from which she has drawn inspiration throughout her career.

Beginning in 1970, energized by participation in the feminist art movement, Kozloff became an originating figure of the Pattern and Decoration movement. In her work from this period, Kozloff explores the applied and decorative arts, filling large canvases with geometric patterns inspired by Greek temples in Sicily, tile and brick facades in Mexico, and designs from the pages of books on Islamic patterns. In Up Front, Appollonian, Kozloff breaks the canvas up into large geometric shapes, using subtle texture and color variations to create an abstract pattern that recalls California beaches and New Mexico mesas. The sheer size of Up Front, Appollonian, which measures 6’ x 10’, allows for the viewer to be visually overwhelmed by, or subsumed in, the all-over pattern. Standing in front of the work, the viewer can ruminate on each abstract shape, texture, and color, so that the individual parts coalesce into a patchwork world of geometric forms.

Up Front, Appollonian is an excellent example of Kozloff’s interest in scale—a concern that she has realized in large-scale public installations and works of art throughout her career of over four decades. Scale has been a topic of interest for artists since the mid-twentieth century. In 1947, Jackson Pollock wrote, “I believe the easel picture is a dying form, and the tendency of modern feeling is towards the wall picture or mural.” Shortly after the end of World War II in New York, during the Abstract Expressionist era, scale became a fundamental means for painters to express themselves. Influential painters like Pollock and Mark Rothko pushed the boundaries of painting with their radical large-scale works on canvas. As Mary-Kay Lombino, FLLAC curator of the XL exhibition states, “modern painting is often said to aim constantly at the radical, and bigness was a way to be radical. By going big, artists radically extended the tenets of modernism and their paintings had an emotional effect on spectators…Scale opens up questions of agency in ways that compel reconsideration of what it means to be involved in the creation, circulation, and reception of visual art.”

XL: Large-Scale Paintings from the Permanent Collection, which covers a time span from 1948 to 2005, is an investigation of the ways in which artists have grappled with scale for the last half-century. The exhibition provides the Art Center with a rare opportunity to showcase nineteen large-scale paintings from the permanent collection that are rarely on view because of space constraints in the galleries. It is an attestation to the lasting visual power of large-scale paintings and to the strength of Vassar’s collection of 20th– and 21st-century works. XL: Large-Scale Paintings from the Permanent Collection will be on view until March 29, 2015.

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