If you go
What: "Elemental Forms" exhibition
When: Through May 2018
Where: CU Art Museum, University of Colorado, Boulder
More info: colorado.edu/cuartmuseum
Entering the exhibition "Elemental Forms," the eye is greeted with a series of tall, bright paintings. Bold colors of light blue, slate, neon green and pink distort the flat wall in patterned lines — the series rises from the surface and sinks back into position in an optical illusion. Like doorways, the series prepares the viewer for a spin in another dimension, one laden with both color and impeccable, mathematical precision. Part of a series of "portals," the paintings were created by the foundational father of the colorist movement, Richard Anuszkiewicz.
"Elemental Forms," the newest exhibition at CU Art Museum at the University of Colorado in Boulder, which is on view through May 2018, showcases mod work from the 1960s onward in a refreshing splash of color and funky form. It features art by the likes of Josef and Annie Albers, Sol LeWitt, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Frank Stella and Callum Innes — all innovators of the aesthetic movement that shifted toward experimental media, subject and method, and away from abstract expressionism, which focused on the artist's sentiments and their presence. The shift has cultural roots, where the individual grappled with maintaining an identity in a world that began to prioritize mass-production and systematic industry.
Like the change that the artists in the show represented to the culture of their time, so the exhibit reflects the museum's readiness for a change in direction as well. This collection presents far more contemporary work than the historical work often displayed in the museum's past exhibitions.
Though many of the pieces lack emotional involvement from the artist, this condition creates space for meaning in "Elemental Forms." In the exhibition, the human mind is present in the logic and execution of the pieces, and human aesthetic is present in the color studies at work. In some pieces, the artist is present in the slightest, as hints of the personal manifest themselves in details of the process. In one series of four drawings, artist Olafur Eliasson gave his father instructions to go out onto his boat and let the rocking of the vessel in the water create a line on the page, beginning at the center. The result is a black line askew on each square white paper. Though minimal to the eye, the image of the process behind the piece transforms the series, called "Untitled Suite of 4 Drawings," into a work that is both personal and thought-provoking.
In others, the artist's hand is so detached from the work that the artist did not even touch their piece until its completion. Instead, the artist would employ manufacturers or students armed with instructions to manifest their vision, then sign their name, like Sol LeWitt. In LeWitt's sculptural installation "3 Part Set D 1-5-9," this notion of detachment gives the viewer an immediate sense of frustration, because of the extremity of the artist's absence. The installation consists of three cubes of small, medium and large size, placed in order on the floor. Each side of each cube corresponds with a letter and a number, according to a wall plaque. Though the piece was meant to be a visual representation of the exact antithesis to expressionism — and represent the culmination of the minimalist movement altogether — it was less fulfilling, It is initially less clear in its creative rebellion against sentiment than the other sculptures showcased, though it occupies a substantial amount of space.
One sculpture, however, is impossible to miss. A creation of CU alumnus Blanca Guerra Echeverria, the installation is a lively exploration of the processes of cell growth and division. Spheres of pink and gold of glob-like texture are arranged to represent certain stages of this biological phenomenon. Called "Looming Still," the contemporary sculpture is a curious sight, as it manages to avoid strict lines as a means of representing mathematical logic, and instead enters the realm of the imagination.
"Elemental Forms" altogether reflects the idea of balance between the artist's touch and the process of the piece in both a pleasing and intelligent manner. It presents pieces that, in conversation with each other, illustrate each artist's individual conception of the movement of the time and their willingness to expose themselves in their work. The result is a collection full of surprising pieces that both test the brain and excite natural associations and disassociations.