Contemporary American Art, United States Embassy Prague

Introduction by David Moos

The cross-section of contemporary American art presented in this exhibition at the United States Ambassador's Residence in Prague is a direct reflection of Ambassador and Mrs. Cabaniss' abiding conviction that the arts are an integral component of everyday life. Indeed, Catherine Caldwell Cabaniss is herself an accomplished painter and print-maker. Renowned critic and art historian Donald Kuspit has observed of her recent Palimpsest series: "In Cabaniss' work there is the sense of the generative - the spontaneous emergence of poetic forms from the creative flux of gestures. It is the basic sign of successful abstract expressionist painting:" The embrace of gesture and a willingness to experience the flourish of creative thought is the theme that unifies the present exhibition - featuring works from a range of both established and emerging American artists. Whether the image is recognizable, as in the work of Mary Frank, Judith Shea, and Matt Saunders, or maintains a more suggestive and rhythmic pattern, as do the works of Sara Armstrong, Fay Chandler, and Valerie Jaudon, these artists share in their willingness to embrace the flow of the creative process.

Among the younger artists featured here is Amy Pleasant, a painter whose work allows the viewer to glimpse the formation of images. In Cuts and Pans, a title that describes two cinematic procedures, fragments of overlapping narratives emerge: a silhouetted woman reaches upward; a young woman peers into a mirror, seeing her reflection; three solitary figures are posed against a gray backdrop. As one pieces together these parts of a possible story that unfold through time, one also becomes aware of how the painter makes decisions in paint, amending a passage and visibly editing the composite image.

This process of thought seeking visible form is revealed in the abstract painting of Beverly Erdreich. In The Best of Times, Erdreich assertively models paint with a brush that alternately describes intricate, near figurative passages and broad gestural passages. A shallow angular space is suggested through a collection of forms that flicker with the suggestion of a recumbent body Erdreich's style harkens back to the charged figural work of Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning, artists who defined the mid-twentieth century.

The painting of Pat Steir also draws inspiration from prior sources in American art. Her elegant, cascading paint that appears to the eye like the residue of poetic: thought, recalls the freedom of Jackson Pollock's drip and the levity of Morris Louis's aqueous veils. Steir deftly creates metaphors in paint that rival the splendor and grace of nature. Chinese Mountain Water Painting allows us to behold beauty - of paint mesmerically applied to canvas, of light reflecting the movement of water.

While Steir's painterly language is allusive, April Gornik's is descriptive. Gornik's Marsh Waterway presents a stylized, simplified view of a landscape bisected by water. Her disarmingly simple scene, void of human presence, becomes a stage where symbolic possibility blossoms. Similarly, Lesley Dill's work endeavors to implicate larger thematic territory through the use of emblematic imagery and evocative materials. Her work titled Visionary presents the image of a woman silk-screened onto tea-stained muslin, posed atop a poem by Emily Dickinson, the great nineteenth century American font of the feminine imagination. "In sumptuous solitude;' Dickinson writes, invoking the quiet space that all artists require, " ... Rapture changed its dress / and stood amazed before the Change / In ravished holiness." The ecstasy of transformation is a prospect that binds artist and viewer together, and it is in the work of art itself that such epiphany is sought.

In whatever medium or mode that American artists work from Joan Snyder's emotionally intense, small-scale painting, to Graham Caldwell's delicately entwined glass ellipse, to Jessica Stockholder's perplexing work that incorporates a thermos, a snorkel tube, and a feather duster and hangs tethered from ropes - they convey a zeal for adventure that defines the forefront of creative inquiry and innovation. As Dickinson likened a change of dress to the bodying forth of new ideas, it is through the embrace of diversity that the imagination grows.

Sara Garden Armstrong

Sara Garden Armstrong considers Maps 008 - 011 as a voyage, as a study of the topography of the translucent Abaca paper, which is formulated through the eye and the mind of the viewer. The Abaca paper's texture is achieved by repeatedly handling the paper, and submitting it to a series of wetting and drying treatments. Graphite powder is infused during this process. The Plexiglas case is textured with pressurized sand and air.

Armstrong is a working artist with a Master's degree in both fine arts and in education. Her work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, as well as in the corporate collections of Time Warner and General Electric.

David Moos is Curator of Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Previously he was Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama. He holds a Ph.D. in art history from Columbia University, New York.

© 2021 Sara Garden Armstrong