Yesterday my husband and I drove to Shreveport, LA to see the International Guild of Realism's traveling exhibit titled ''The New Reality: The Frontier of Realism in the 21st Century". Not only were we impressed with the show we were very impressed with the Gallery's permanent collection. Even though it's called a gallery it's more like an art museum. So if you live anywhere near Shreveport it's definitely worth the trip. If not you'll find the current tour schedule at the bottom of my post. Maybe it will be somewhere near you.
“The New Reality: The Frontier of Realism in the 21st Century” is the first traveling museum show of this century to not only look at the state of Realism painting around the world, but to also compare those artworks with their historical predecessors.
Fifty-six artists are represented with sixty-five paintings from the United States, Canada, The Netherlands, Korea, Russia, France, Iceland, Romania, Norway, and Finland in this juried show organized by the International Guild of Realism. The exhibition looks at such media as oil, acrylic, egg tempera, graphite and colored pencil to give viewers a snapshot of how Realism artists are approaching their art form today.
Each artist was asked to identify one historical painting that can be used by museum attendees to compare and contrast today’s work with the pioneers of this art technique. The artists cited such predecessors as Ingres, Da Vinci, Dürer, Vermeer, Harnett, Constable, Memling and Dali as starting points for their current work as they explored still life, landscape, figurative and even trompe l’oeil art forms. In some cases, the contrast between the old and the new is startling; in other cases, one can almost see the apprentice soaking up the Old Master’s techniques for modern visuals.
Each of the sixty-five contemporary paintings can be directly compared with an historic Realism painting. Each wall label features an image of a related historic painting.
This is the first traveling museum show of this century to not only look at the state of Realism painting around the world, but also compare those artworks with their historical predecessors. Fifty-six artists are represented with 65 paintings from the United States, Canada, The Netherlands, Korea, Russia, France, Iceland, Romania, Norway, and Finland in this juried exhibit organized by the International Guild of Realism. The exhibition looks at such media as oil, acrylic, egg tempera, graphite and colored pencil to give viewers a snapshot of how Realism artists are approaching their art form today. This month the R.W. Norton Art Gallery is hosting, “The New Reality: The Frontier of Realism in the 21st Century”, a juried collection of paintings by the members of the International Guild of Realism. The title of this exhibition cannot help but raise the simple question, why the “new reality”? What happened to the old one? The prevailing view for centuries was that art was the result of careful craftsmanship representing a heightened reality to evoke an emotional response and/or express a theme or story. Then came the Romantic Age, and with it the reassessment of the artist as less a craftsman than an (often misunderstood) individual with a unique form of expression. Artists began to take a more painterly approach to their work, using loose brushwork and bold colors to develop expressive, individualistic styles that resulted in works like Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People and Turner’s Ulysses Deriding Polyphemous. As photography usurped the role of replicating reality, painters like the Impressionists began to refine art to its essentials, focusing on the manipulation of color and light. The Modernists who followed them pared the image down even further, focusing on elements of form, volume, line, and color to the point of abstraction. Then, in the early 20th century, the Dadas, with Marcel Duchamp’s readymades and other innovations, refined art to the realm of the metaphysical – art was no longer about the object, or even the depiction of the object – it was about the concept in the mind of the artist and the interaction between that and the audience.
As execution became less important to the process, craftsmanship of the kind expected from artists ranging from the Old Masters to 19th century academics often fell by the wayside. However, in the late 20th century, a backlash against abstract and conceptual art began. Many artists began to embrace concepts and techniques borrowed from older masters. Thus was born the International Guild of Realism in 2002. The founders began by clarifying the number of styles they felt fit under the realist umbrella, including classical realism (ranging from the Renaissance Old Masters to Courbet) and extending to contemporary styles such as trompe l’oeil, photorealism, surrealism, and super-realism. The one thing common to all of these artists is the element stressed by Guild member Benjamin Orozco Lopez of Mexico: “The most important thing about the Guild is that we are a big group of artists who glorify the values of craftsmanship, which has almost been lost in modern painting.”
For this exhibition, selected artists are required to cite the example of an Old Master or other Realist painting which helped inspire their own in either theme or technique. However, while they may borrow their style or technique from the Old Masters, they are all determined to create an expression of their own contemporary world, including other styles of art as well. Kolbjorn Haseth, for instance, admits a debt to abstraction as well as realism in his landscape, The Colour Gray: “The massive rock on the right meets us like an abstract image, and had to be balanced with a more interesting area to the far left . . .” And while George Gonzalez’s still-lifes and trompe l’oeil paintings capture contemporary, often mundane objects, he also draws inspiration from a diversity of predecessors ranging from Mannerists to surrealists.
Other Guild artists have more allegiance to specific schools of the past. Damon Denys admits, “My first love was the paintings of the British classicists and romantics of Victorian England,” while Bryce Cameron Liston is equally clear about his debt to academic artists: “Inspired by 19th century artistic values, I traveled abroad to study first hand, the works of artists such as Waterhouse, Bouguereau, Gerome and Tadema. It is important to me to keep alive what these and other artists like them were doing.” Another inspiration for the new realists is the 17th century golden age of Dutch and Spanish masters. A still-life artist like Grace Kim echoes the concerns of the 17th century Dutch masters, saying, “Although my subjects are often what appears to be simple flowers and fruit, I always see something unique and beautifully complex and intricate in all that exists in this world.” Cuban artist Jorge Alberto admits, “My paintings spring from a life-long fascination with lighting and how light affects mood . . . I take inspiration from the 17th century painters, like Caravaggio, Velasquez and Ribera, emulating the strong use of lighting contrast so evident in the work of these masters.”
In their veneration for the Old Masters, some of the Guild artists even borrow their materials. Mark Thompson specializes in egg tempera work and etchings, admitting, “I have long been fascinated by the beauty of line and the work of the Renaissance and pre-Renaissance masters. Etchings are essentially the distillation of balance and rhythm, volume and line in a medium over 400 years old.” And artist Lee Alban actually grinds his paints from powdered pigments and prepares his canvases by hand the way the Old Masters did. Still others have learned how to incorporate the Old Masters techniques into new media. Arlene Steinberg works in colored pencil, but that hasn’t prevented her from taking inspiration from the technique and styles of Renaissance painters.
While many if not most of these artists draw from the distant past, there are some distinctly 20th century forms of realism, the most prominent of which is the one wrought by a 19th century invention – the camera. Photorealism requires the painter to create a work so detailed and precise that it replicates the effect of a photograph – craftsmanship of a very high standard indeed and which draws perhaps more than the others on the availability of modern inventions and techniques. Kory Fluckiger, for instance, “has developed his own technique of watercolor painting in which he airbrushes the background to highlight the colors in the foreground, so that the painting appears to be a magnificent photograph.” Fellow photorealist Anne Kullaf has found her work compared to Edward Hopper in its grasp of light as well as its ability to raise the mundane world to the sublime nature of art.
This is only a fraction of the artists whose unique visions and superb executions are represented in the exhibition. Fifty-six artists from nations including America, Canada, The Netherlands, Korea, Russia, France, Iceland, Romania, Norway and Finland have contributed 65 paintings to the show. While they all share a common goal, each of them has a unique vision and style in which to depict the world around them. Charter member Lorena Kloosterboer explains that while abstraction and modernism have dominated recent art, she, like her fellow realists reject the idea that their work is “unevolved”, declaring, “One only needs to visit one of our exhibitions . . . to appreciate the incredible array of exceptional Realism.”
With this in mind, the R.W. Norton Art Gallery invites you to join us for “The New Reality: The Frontier of Realism in the 21st Century.”
Everl Adair, Director of Research and Rare Collections
Wichita Art Museum
Wichita, Kansas: April 27, 2008 through June 22, 2008
The Springfield Museums
Springfield, Massachusetts: July 13, 2008 through September 7, 2008
The Springfield Museums
Springfield, Massachusetts: September 28, 2008 through November 23, 2008
R.W. Norton Art Gallery
Shreveport, Louisiana: December 16, 2008 through February 15, 2009
J. Wayne Stark Gallery, Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas: August 9, 2009 through October 18, 2009
Museum of Texas Tech University
Lubbock, Texas: November 8, 2009 through January 3, 2010
Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum
Wausau, Wisconsin: June 27, 2010 through August 22, 2010
Indian Hills Community College
Ottumwa, Iowa: September 12, 2010 through November 7, 2010