Some Forgotten Place / MATRIX 213
September 19, 2004 - December 19, 2004
Download the exhibition brochure (PDF).
Landscape painting used to be categorized, along with still life and paintings of ships and animals, as decorative—pleasing backgrounds to civilized living. In keeping with the MATRIX tradition of facilitating new, open modes of analysis, Some Forgotten Place presents the work of eight contemporary international artists who explore landscape as an intellectually and emotionally charged space. Karin Mamma Andersson (Sweden), Amy Cutler (United States), Makiko Kudo (Japan), Saskia Leek (New Zealand), James Morrison (Australia), Aaron Morse (United States), Wilhelm Sasnal (Poland), and Amelie von Wulffen (Germany). They challenge the principal historical types of landscape painting (symbolic, factual, ideal, pastoral, and artificial) by incorporating a range of unexpected elements including myth, dreams, imagination, personal narrative, abstraction, and the psychological.
Amelie von Wulffen’s large-scale watercolor and collages on paper convey a space that is simultaneously imagined and recorded. The main character in her projected world is the artist, surrounded by what she admires: old paintings and furniture, trees, lakes, and sunrises, John Travolta and Solzhenitsyn. In one work, an image with a few people at a beach almost imperceptibly transitions into a body of water rendered in brushstrokes. It is only a rip in the paper that signals an awakening from what is otherwise arranged just as it might be in a movie, mind, or dream space.
Amy Cutler’s original myths feature women, most of whom have the face of the artist, engaged in arduous, surreal activities. Attempting to escape a task, a place, or the stereotypical assignment of feminine roles (bearing children, doing household chores), her characters exist amid a dizzying array of references. Magic, grotesquerie, European castles, and Shaker dresses are rendered in minute perfection. With the action surrounded by a great mass of blank white paper, these paintings initially seem dreamlike. However, the absence of location ultimately feels punishing, a type of purgatory devoid of time and space, a landscape of stagnation and futility.
The paintings of Mamma Andersson address the complex relationship between the individual and history. Generating an atmosphere that is both alienated and magical, ghosts—of people, places, and events—wander in and out of the works. They are set in a mythical northern landscape where things previously thought familiar morph to reveal themselves as frightening.
Aaron Morse's vision of nature combines nineteenth-century romantic epics about the wild western frontier with contemporary popular sources and a futuristic vision of reality. In Hawkeye #2, five elongated vertical panels present landscapes, close-ups, and abstract passages to form an action-based narrative sequence.
Makiko Kudo’s paintings are infused with the sweet longing of memory. She combines daily experience and observation—a river seen while walking, her home, a cat, a floating moon in the night sky, a dreaming girl—into pictures in which multiple stories coexist.
James Morrison’s gorgeously painted figurative works ooze narrative. In them, an eerie “wrongness” predominates. Shawnee Oklahoma juxtaposes autumnal trees and a ground bursting with spring flowers. In Northwest Territory an arctic fox prowls beneath a blue parakeet. Morrison’s improbable scenes seem to question conventional histories and truths as well as the stories told by the canon of landscape painting.
Wilhelm Sasnal’s works often differ so much from one another that one could assume they had been painted by numerous artists. They share, however, an authorial sensibility that reflects political, moral, and aesthetic aspects of reality. The paintings exist in some respects as formal exercises, toying with the conventions of representation and using perspective and focus to disrupt our expectations. Sasnal’s subjects come across as isolated, in a state of suspension, waiting for something as if interrupted.
The paintings of Saskia Leek also question accepted tenets. Challenging the notion of “good” painting, she works on a small scale on board and uses cheap frames to enhance this raw and humble quality. Inhabited by a quirky cast of humans, birds, fish, horses, and houses, her paintings elicit strong nostalgic responses. The scenes remain anonymous and mostly vacant but suggest things from Leek’s past—things left behind but not forgotten. The bleached palette she employs recalls the faded colors of memory: pastel yellows, faint blues, washed-out greens, and hazy pinks.
Charged with art-historical references and shadowed by individual, collective, and imagined memory, the places seen here may have existed, lingered, vanished, or been forgotten. Or, they may not. Without question, though, they are pleasing backgrounds to contemporary living.
Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson
Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator
The MATRIX Program at the UC Berkeley Art Museum is made possible by the generous endowment gift of Phyllis C. Wattis.
Additional donors to the MATRIX Program include the UAM Council MATRIX Endowment, Art Berliner, Glenn and April Bucksbaum, Eric McDougall, Sonja and Michael Saltman, and Christopher Vroom and Illya Szilak.
Special support for MATRIX 213 Some Forgotten Place has been provided by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body, Tecoah and Tom Bruce, Roselyne C. Swig, the Polish Cultural Institute, and Goethe-Institut, San Francisco.