'Pure Voice' Looks For Parallels Between Local Artists And Modernist Movement

Jul 8, 2015

James Gross, Nature, First-Stage, 1998. Oil on canvas with pasted paper and plastic, mounted on mat board, 11 3/4 x 8 inches. Wichita Art Museum, Gift of Dan R. Rouser in memory of Jake Euker.

The Wichita Art Museum currently has an exhibition of five local artists called Art’s Pure Voice: Abstraction in Wichita. The title is lifted from artist and educator Hans Hofmann.

I am wary of the word “pure” in the title. “Purity” for Hofmann, and art critic Clement Greenberg, was a specific notion in Modernist thought that promoted specific criteria for art. Artists then eventually turned purity into plurality, which marked the transition from Modernism to Postmodernism. The five artists included in the show are Postmodern artists.

Artist James Gross creates collages reminiscent of early Robert Rauschenberg “combine” paintings, where everyday objects meet the expressively painted canvas for a visually complex synthesis of the world.

Painter Kevin Kelly creates paintings of the unkempt strata of everyday life. With titles like Dead Grass and Swimming Pool, Kelly sets a compressed color palette of memory in motion that is messy and muddled, as memories tend to be.

Painter and print maker Kevin Mullins creates work of intricate patterns of dizzying dots abruptly meeting acid tones of undulating stripes.

Artist Ann Resnick burns filigree patterns into obituary sections of the newspaper to speak of mortality. Take a deep look at her work to fully appreciate her technique, and linger on her floating floral patterns of life and loss.

Kate Van Steenhuyse suspends her paintings in a state of becoming. Stains, awkward geometries, and ugly colors work both sides of upstretched canvas. Her paintings connect with our own uneasy moments of transition and offer encouragement with titles like Go for It and Just Breathe Through It.

I love when museums focus on the local scene--and this is a strong sampling. However, this modernist premise tries to pay these artists a compliment by connecting them to a great American movement, but the historical context is ill-fitting for all involved.