Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Enigma : Absence + Presence in Contemporary Art

e∙nig´ma (e∙nĭg´mȧ), n.; pl. –MAS (mȧz). [L. aenigma, fr. Gr. ainigma, fr. ainissesthai to speak darkly, fr. ainos tale, fable.] 1. An obscure saying; a riddle; an obscure speech or writing. 2. Anything inexplicable; something hard to understand or explain; also, an inscrutable person. – Syn. See MYSTERY.

The Enigma: Absence + Presence in Contemporary Art exhibition consists of photographs, paintings, mixed media works, and sculptures by a variety of well- and lesser-known contemporary artists working in this country and abroad. It takes its name from the notion that contemporary art is more frequently about questions than answers, and invites viewers to engage with artworks that are not immediately knowable—instead, they require long, careful consideration of the multiple meanings and possibilities inherent within and about them.

From the exhibition’s text panel:

Although debates about the definition of art continue to unfold, many critics argue that the most successful art stimulates the human senses as well as the human mind. The contemporary artists featured in this exhibition use a variety of media to present artworks that appear puzzling and mysterious at first glance, but which also carry complex, multi-layered meanings just waiting to be deciphered.

The process an artist uses to create an artwork often adds to the intrigue of the final product. For example, photographers Stuart Allen and Jim Sanborn both set their cameras for long exposure times in order to manipulate and dramatize the lighting in their works. Peter Goin rejuvenates the tradition of the photogram—once used by theorists including Moholy Nagy and Man Ray—to create shadowy figures that tell an unfolding story. Conceptual sculptures by Fred Reid and Robert Morrison present mysterious shapes and forms that require viewers to probe historical contexts in order to understand them more fully.

The sculptures, photographs, and paintings in this exhibition encourage prolonged looking and contemplation, and their meanings are not always obvious. In 1969, artist Mark Boyle wrote that “in a condition of adamant doubt you are asked for explanations when all you want is for someone to explain anything. And you are asked for purposes when you are learning to accept that a purpose is not going to emerge ever.” As the works in this exhibition prove, good art stimulates the human senses as well as the human mind; it also often poses complicated questions instead of easy answers.