Modernism in Big Sky Country

Isabelle Johnson, “Calves, Winter” (1950), oil on canvas board, 15.5 x 19.5 inches (all images courtesy Michelle Corriel)

Montana Modernists: Shifting Perceptions of Western Art (2022, Washington State University Press) by Michelle Corriel is an art history book focused on the careers and work of a group of six post-World War II artists who called Montana home and brought Abstract Expressionist influences from major US metropolitan areas and modern European movements (particularly Post-Impressionism, Cubism, and Bauhaus) to a state that had almost no market for the avant-garde. Their goals were not to achieve commercial success but to experiment with, teach, and spread an appreciation of Modernist art to their communities.

“Place,” the first of three sections, explores the work and creative relationship of Montana natives and ranchers Bill Stockton (1921–2002) and Isabelle Johnson (1901–1992). The second, “Teaching/Artistic Lineage” delves into the teachers who influenced the Montana Modernists, then focuses on the pedagogical approaches and legacy of companions in life and work, Frances Senska (1914–2009) and Jessie Spaulding Wilber (1912–1989).

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An Introduction to “Afrogallonism”

Serge Attukwei Clottey, “Headlines” (2020), plastic and copper wire, 83 x 88 inches

LONDON — In Serge Attukwei Clottey’s exhibition, Crossroads at Simon Lee gallery, the Accra-based multidisciplinary artist uses found materials to explore Ghanaian culture and identity. Several of his large-scale pieces are brightly colored mosaics Clottey created by bounding together square pieces of plastic from Kufuor gallons. Named after Ghana’s then-president John Agyekum Kufuor, these jerrycans were used to collect and store water when the country was suffering from severe shortages in the 2000s. The artist calls the usage and exploration of this material Afrogallonism, for the way this practice highlights the gallon as, at once, a ubiquitous symbol of recent Ghanaian cultural history, a representation of the environmental injustice of water scarcity across the continent, and an object that tells the story of exchange between Ghana and the West. As such, these large, vibrant orange-yellow tapestries appear repeatedly across the two floors of the exhibition like a motif.

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An Artist’s Hopeful Vision of the Ocean

Mulyana, “Satu” (2018), mixed media; dimensions variable

LOS ANGELES — The Fisher Museum of Art at the University of Southern California has been swallowed by the sea.

The Indonesian fiber artist Mulyana has taken over the museum with colorful, hand-knitted and crocheted aquatic life. Mulyana: Modular Utopia features two room-sized installations, three-dimensional fiber wall sculptures, colorful costumes, and soft, inviting pillows.

Mulyana crafts a tactile, mystical world in which fish, whales, and coral reefs coexist with sea monsters. A multi-hued green figure made from yarn, “Adikara” (2020), emerges from a bright bed of seaweed and coral. Mulyana, pulling from Indonesian tradition, often creates masks and costumes to explore other dimensions of his personality, usually a heroic, nonhuman creature. A ruffled, yellow costume, “Si Koneng” (2022), sprouts from patches of dull gray coral, contrasting the subdued sea life with its sunny energy.

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The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation Presents The Feminine in Abstract Painting

Shirley Kaneda, “Furtive Prominence” (2022) acrylic on canvas, 48 x 33 inches

The Feminine in Abstract Painting explores the feminine through aesthetics, not identity or gender. These artistic choices, for example, utilize an open-ended process and vulnerability — one must recognize the trauma of having works by women described as “feminine” disparagingly, as something an artist must overcome. However, through today’s lens, we can analyze and develop a richer understanding that is not defined by success or lack thereof. The exhibition considers the historical basis of one’s associations with the feminine and draws attention to how we determine what to categorize as such.

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Otherwordly Ceramic Forms by Janny Baek Evoke Growth and Transformation

Image © Janny Bae

“I’ve always been drawn to art in different ways, but sculpting clay by hand seems to come most naturally to me. I think it is my most effective means of communication,” says Janny Baek, whose playful, abstract ceramics blur the line between form and function. Drawing on fundamental compositional elements like color, line, and volume, she creates characterful shapes from clay that “advocate for the strange, uncategorized, undefined, changeable, hybrid, multiple, alien, and pleasurable.”

After studying ceramics in college, Baek worked as a sculptor for animation and toys before pursuing graduate studies and a career in architecture.

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Christina Quarles’s Paintings of Tangled Appendages Probe Prismatic Senses of Self

Christina Quarles: By Tha Skin of Our Tooth, 2019.

The first thing I noticed when Christina Quarles opened the door for a studio visit was her face—round, inviting, with light and freckled skin, dark and piercing eyes. I extended my hand in greeting, enacting a dynamic that the Los Angeles–based artist explores in her paintings: though she sees faces as central to how we conceive other people as beings with unified bodies, she suggests we experience our own bodies largely through our appendages, a fragmented and abstracted view of ourselves.

The bodies in Quarles’s paintings—always entangled or embracing, often nude but multicolored—never feel whole, even when a viewer can trace which limbs belong to which torso. Laid Down Beside Yew (2019) depicts a tangle of bodies emerging from two planes: one patterned like a tartan blanket, the other an ambiguous green oblong shape. Three faces are present, but devoid of details; what holds the focus is a ravel of arms and legs.

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Richard Hull Completes the Picture

Richard Hull, “Teller” (2023)

CHICAGO — I first saw Richard Hull’s work in 1981 when he had his second New York show at the Phyllis Kind Gallery. We lost touch around the time Phyllis closed her gallery in 2009, and did not see each other again until 2016, when I wrote about visiting his studio in Chicago, where he has lived since the late 1970s. On my recent trip to Chicago, I did not think I would be able to see, much less write about, his current exhibition, Richard Hull: Mirror and Bone, at Western Exhibitions, running through April 22. I had not considered writing about Hull’s work because we were about to collaborate on monotypes at Manneken Press in Bloomington, Illinois — something we had never done before.

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Magic and Myth Arise from Kristin Kwan’s Surreal Oil Paintings

“Multitudes” Image © Kristin Kwan

Kristin Kwan coaxes the magic out of nature in her dreamlike oil paintings. Emphasizing a quiet surrealism centered on plants, animals, and Earth’s landscapes, her works draw on allegories, symbolism, and myth. Suffused with fantastical details, each painting begins “devoid of meaning,” Kwan shares, saying that while they reflect her own musings, she hopes the resulting pieces are open-ended.

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Order and Chaos Converge in Yool Kim’s Emotionally Charged Works

Image © Yool Kim

Yool Kim seizes the disarray of our inner emotional landscapes by trapping energetically impassioned characters in her color-blocked works. Contorted bodies, floating heads, and abstractly shaped cut-outs reveal a range of moods and feelings all compacted into the rectangular canvas. Centered on linework and simple shapes the Seoul-based artist scratches into the composition, the mixed-media works feature stylized figures who emphasize play, sadness, and malaise.

Where pattern signals an underlying sense of order, the characters’ facial expressions veer in the opposite direction. “I draw myself.

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Aerial Photographs by Kevin Krautgartner Capture the Magnificent Power of Crashing Waves Above Hawaii’s Banzai Pipeline

Image © Kevin Krautgartner

Nothing puts the enormous power of nature into perspective quite like the energy of our planet’s oceans. On a reef off of the North Short of O’ahu, Hawaii, some of the world’s most famously thrilling and dangerous waves present enticing conditions for surfing in an area known as the Banzai Pipeline. Photographer Kevin Krautgartner celebrates the mesmerizing, barrel-shaped breakers in Pipeline, a series of aerial images highlighting the formidable force of water crashing and whorling along the shore.

“Personally, waves always get my attention when I’m close to a coastline or the ocean,” Krautgartner says. “For me, they are especially unique because they are a natural phenomenon that can create a sense of awe and wonder… creating a rhythmic pattern that can be both soothing and exhilarating.” Going beyond documentation, he focuses on details like structure and form, examining the elemental interactions between light, water, and air.

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