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    November 2007
Page 7    
Pioneer Family by Minerva Teichert
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Minerva Teichert . . . from page 1

Pageants in Paints reveals Teichert's art in a meaningful, provocative and educational manner and focuses on Teichert's oeuvre incorporating an essential aspect of her art: its theatricality. As the photographs seen upon entering attest, this “enigma”, was herself highly theatrical. She delighted in a very bohemian, eccentric and ornate style of dress. And Teichert loved film. Her favorites included Buffalo Bill, both of The Ten Commandments, and the early film Brigham Young. This keen interest in film and the theatrical -- and this cannot be over stated -- is reflected in her art, not only in composition but in subject. The majority of the works are large-scale narrative murals allowing for a monumentality which incites a theatrical experience. Entering the museum exhibition space at BYU, one feels as if one is walking through the proscenium of a stage set or pageant.

How are Teichert's pageant-like paintings meaningful and why are they the core of the exhibition? Narrative elements play a significant role in the arts: painting, film, literature, theater, music, opera, dance. Early academic painting placed narrative as the highest achievement for the artist. Each painting of Teichert's fits this qualification and paints a story, a little film in the imagination. The meaning and presentation are just as informative. Through characters who seem alive in their placement within the picture, the action that is represented tell the stories that were interesting and powerful to her. These are stories of high human drama: Mormon pioneers crossing an endless plain,|0| early civilizations offering sacrifices to their Gods, cowboys galloping through the uncharted west, the struggle of a poor family to survive, the plight of the American Indians.|1| They are painted with compassion and affinity. These are the types of stories she liked to tell; these episodes, these little films tell stories of the past that she has preserved and are great archives of the history of the United States and the Americas.

Teichert is masterful in her use of composition. Structurally, her works attain an acute sense of balance between the figures and the space they occupy. She uses many vertical planes for her subjects but always balances them with a horizontal, such as in "Handcart Pioneers," a train of Mormon Pioneers balanced with mountain ranges. Often figures on the edge of the canvas set off the interior, allowing the viewer to focus upon what is unfolding within. In "Broncho Dance," mighty warriors invite the gaze of the viewer but guard the entrance.|2| The potency of these outside figures are echoed by a strong central focus contrasted with a horizontal; in this case a goddess-like figure. These are inventive compositional elements that allow the story to unfold in paint and add to the quality of theatrics in Teichert's work.

As in a film, the colors in Teichert's paintings have a holistic aspect. Innovatively, Teichert developed a color palette which is wide in range, yet definitively her own. The diversity of the color palette can be seen throughout the exhibition, but it is noticeable that each individual narrative incorporates a portion of that broad palette and gives each canvas a unique quality. Her range extends from nocturnal blues, as in "Night Raid,"|3| to a vivid fuscia sunset in "Mounted Hunt." However broad the spectrum, a continuity in the coloration of figures, structures and landscapes gives one a feeling of unification in what is being looked at. But like a great filmmaker, a great composer or a great playwright, Teichert tends to have areas of focus, climaxes of sorts, often created by strong areas of more pure vivid hues, which add greatly to the meaning and flow of the narrative.

Teichert's works are rendered by other more obvious narrative devices such as the borders which surround most of her pictures. These allow the viewer to glimpse into this world as one would in a pageant or play. It creates a detachment, a separation between the viewer and the narrative. We are meant to be observers, not participants in these candid moments. The borders are the most palpable reference to seeing her work in terms of theatrics. More than this her sense of style created the boundary between our reality and her illusion.

Though Teichert studied in New York and Chicago, was mentored by Robert Henri, and familiar with members of the Ash Can School, her work has largely been ignored by the canon of American Modernism. Her situation as a woman, westerner and Mormon may have something to do with this exclusion. Yet she cultivates her brand of Modernism no less than others and might have been placed amongst the best. Teichert painted when her contemporaries, the Modernists of the "canon," tended towards abstraction, seeking to give their paintings an autonomous objectivity. Her brand of Modernism, however, emphasized the subjective and placed the viewer, as theatrics does, outside of the picture plane, a pictorial device common in Academic art, in which a picture's frame served as a window one peered through. As Cezanne did, and what traditional narrative does not do, Teichert placed her figures frontally. She created narrative planes, implying depth without chiaroscuro. Like her contemporary, Picasso, Teichert used blocks of color, structural motifs of line, shape, color and shade to create depth. These devices are not used to create an objective dialogue but to tell a story; not about art for arts sake but art for our sake. The result is effective, bringing the viewer close to the story yet at a safe distance. These are stories of the brave and courageous -- they are not about us -- and she treats them with due respect.

Minerva Teichert has a style of painting, to those who know her work, which is easily identifiable. Characterized by thin paint application and a loose rendering of forms, Teichert creates scenes of drama and figures filled with pathos. Painted loosely in painting after painting, one sees in Teichert's figures profound expressions revelatory of so much emotion. She can create a face as sensitive as a Gainsborough, denote figures with a few well placed strokes, trees with a gesture, and flesh out the body of a horse with a remarkable example of foreshortening rather than the use of chiaroscuro. To many painters, these results might be considered “happy accidents”, but the abundance of interesting poses, gestures, glances, and movement in Teichert's work shows that these are the result of masterful brushwork. She uses figural grace to propel her stories, as in "Bear Lake," where each face reflects a different personality. Facility of painting such as this lends itself to a canvas which is rich and full but not heavily painted. Qualities as these designate her as a true master.

Using the theatrics of Teichert as a basis for this exhibition was an insightful and innovative way of bringing her art together. It certainly provides an excellent vehicle which the public may enjoy and have a foundation, a state of mind, by which they can approach this art. Thus, viewers will be able to understand the works- presented in this manner we see what Teichert saw, or at least see the vantage point from which she saw: her vision. The viewer might leave the exhibit with a more comprehensive understanding of this incredible art and possibly unravel some of the “enigma” which is Minerva Teichert.

Minerva Teichert: Pageants in Paint continues at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art through March 27, 2008. In conjunction with the exhibit, the Museum has mounted a series of lectures including In(Her)Sight: Minerva Teichert's Vision of a Public Art, by Robert O. Davis, Senior Curator, Museum of Church History and Art (January 24), "The Right Kind of Patriotism:" American Historical Pageants Past and Present, by Megan Sanborn-Jones, Department of Theatre and Media Arts (February 21) and Climbing the Hill: The Power of Pageantry, by Rory Scanlon, Rodger Sorenson, and Janet Swenson, Department of Theatre and Media Arts (March 27). For more information visit the Museum's website.

Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
SL Art Center's Masters of West Coast Assemblage
by Geoff Wichert

Downstairs, off their Main Gallery, the Salt Lake Art Center's Projects Gallery is a small room where shows can be overlooked. The impact of architecture on art shown here can be like putting food between slices of bread: it becomes a snack. One can inhale a quick aesthetic lunch before hurrying on to more important events. Or, as in the present case, a footnote to whatever is showing in the larger gallery can be rendered optional.

The problem with this is that art grows like shrubbery. Most artists add a modicum of growth to an existing branch, making the shrub larger but not altering its eventual shape. It's a rare artist that forks off a new branch, and a rare work that lets us clearly see the structure underlying art's new shape. Academics live with diagrams of structures in their heads, which their eyes project onto the work. They fill a gallery with examples of the growth that fills out the newly reshaped shrub, but in the process we may lose sight of the fork that made it possible.

The current show at the Art Center is a case in point. SF Recylced, in the Main Gallery, is worth seeing. It makes a point about the social role of artists— beyond, that is, making marginal neighborhoods safe for gentrification. But those who miss the corner gallery, or enter for a quick look, may miss the primal breakthrough that its contents demonstrate.

Take, for instance, "Jerry Can Standard Prototype," Ed and Nancy Reddin Kienholz’s television set made from a 5-gallon gas can. |0| The Kienholzes are to assemblage what Picasso was to its two dimensional cousin, collage. Prior to Pablo, artists who set real objects against their painted work wanted to oppose the real and the represented. Picasso’s Cubist collage was intended to deny the privilege of the real, to force viewers to relinquish the artificial separation between two kinds of sensory knowledge.

Prior to the Kienholzes, assemblage was largely the work of Dadas and Surrealists, who wanted to produce waking dreams that broke down logic. But look at "Jerry Can Standard Prototype": what’s striking about it is how “right” it looks. It’s not simply that the TV set is a dangerous incendiary we ought to think twice about bringing into our homes. If that were all the artists had to say, then a surplus bomb with a TV screen would do. But this “prototype” looks much deeper into the human condition and the American psyche and marvels that at a certain moment in time a TV set and a gas can—two highly evolved examples of design, manufacture, and marketing—could bear such a family resemblance. The period decor table it stands on—a signature Kienholz touch—drives the point ever closer to the bone. It’s not necessary for a sewing machine and an umbrella to meet by chance on an operating table for us to see how strange ordinary life is. All we have to do is see it as it really is: the way Ed and Nancy presented it, in ever-larger and more visionary installations. This is why they are two of the most important American artists ever, and their work should come out of the closet and into the mainstream imagination.

"Opening Ragtime," Betye Saar’s diptych box, reveals similarly layered truths.|1| Inside are the closeted secrets of America’s racist past, but also a claim for repossession of a stolen birthright. The graphic power of the “Stars and Bars,” the Confederate battle flag, is linked to the flair of a minstrel’s dress, while the image of slavery becomes the aura of a tribal spirit. The title, spelled out in reverse in printer’s type, argues the padlocked clock cannot stop time forever.

George Herms’ "Clue To" comments in a similarly poetic fashion on another great divide: this one between the classical and the romantic, the rigid and the spontaneous, the immoveable and the fragile, viewed through the life of legendary jazz pianist—and electro-shock therapy victim—“Dodo” Marmarosa.|2|

Focusing on the process of assembly and its significance sets William Dole’s work apart from the collage it resembles. His interests are more in line with Abstract Expressionism (with a hint of Minimalism to come) than with the pictorial goals of European collage.|3|

Wallace Berman’s verifax collage of handheld devices put a symbolic universe in the palm of the hand.|4| In one or another of Berman’s several versions, this prophetic device has recently emerged as the poster child of West Coast Assemblage. Forget the i-Phone: Berman saw the real implications of technology in the transistor radio.

These five works by six artists are a monument of the American Twentieth Century. Jim Edwards has selected five deceptively small-looking works and assembled a show of giants in a small space. Given the systemic neglect of art made west of the Mississippi, we may hope that this is just the beginning of a rediscovery of art and artists who could only have come from those who live here: from among us.

Masters of West Coast Assemblage and Collage, curated by Jim Edwards, continues in the Salt Lake Art Center's Projects Gallery through January 26, 2008.

Jerry Can Standard Prototype by Ed and Nancy Reddin Kienholz
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