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'Geometry' 101

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Bechtler President and CEO John Boyer says the museum's current exhibition, “Geometry: European Art of the 1960s and 1970s,” is designed to explore the "more cerebral and emotionally cool" side of modern art. (Photo: Glenn H. Burkins for Qcitymetro.com)

"Untitled" (from Recherche, expérimentation) by Sergei Candolfi. Image courtesy of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.

Viewing and enjoying the exhibition “Geometry and Experimentation: European Art of the 1960s and 1970s” — currently on display at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art — doesn’t require an advanced knowledge of mathematics. What is required, however, is a keen eye and an open mind.

These are not the works of Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002), the self-taught artist whose quirky sculptures became a focal point of the Bechtler’s last exhibition. No, museum officials said the idea behind “Geometry” was to present a different side of modern art — something “more cerebral and emotionally cool in their exploration,” said Bechtler President and CEO John Boyer.

“There is an audience out there of museum-goers and artists and collectors and others who are just as intrigued — and some of them may be more intrigued — by that end of the artistic spectrum,” he said. “So we have both a responsibility as a museum, and an opportunity as an institution, to explore all along the spectrum of artwork.”

The works in “Geometry” (58 in all), were created by 27 artists from various backgrounds, nationalities, ages and outlooks who chose to utilize geometric forms and patterns as a means of mental, visual and even metaphysical exploration. And according to Boyer, this need for geometrical exploration came about due to various and divergent catalysts.

“The approach to experimenting with the geometric language of form for some was triggered by a spiritual and mystical reason,” said Boyer. “For some it was driven by an interest in math and science and the sense of structure. For others it was driven purely by the optical effect that could be derived through the use of geometry and color in certain ways. And for others it was really a commentary on art itself and the relationship between the viewer and the painting or a work on paper or a work of sculpture.

“One of the points of the show,” he continued, “is that you have a number of artists for different reasons coming to the same formal language, and that’s part of what makes art so remarkable and compelling in its uniqueness.”

The show includes pieces by Sergei Candolfi, Op art “father” Victor Vasarely and Bechtler family friend Max Bill, among many others. Bill’s work, in particular, demonstrates how the notion of geometry can be manifested in a variety of art forms.

“[Max Bill] was a practicing architect, and engineer and industrial designer as well as a very famous sculpturer but then also a painter, draftsman and printmaker. So in our exhibition, you see him as a draftsman and a printmaker, and you see him as a sculpturer,” Boyer said.

Some of the works in "Geometry" are simple in design, others more complex. And a casual critic would be forgiven for judging some less artistically significant than others. That's the beauty of art appreciation, Boyer said.

"There are people who studied for decades and would make a case that not all works by Picasso are equally good and or important," he said. "There is a measure of quality within the work of a single artist, and so it’s to be expected that there could be a question of quality within a particular movement or particular time."

Artists and heady ideas aside, paying “Geometry” a visit, taking in the art and attempting to understand the collected works, Boyer stresses, has to be done on your own terms.

“That’s what the show reminds us; just because a number of artworks look very similar, it doesn’t mean they all got there the same way or that they all mean the same thing to the artists,” he said, “and by extension that they should all mean the same thing to us as the viewer.”

“Geometry: European Art of the 1960s and 1970s” runs until Feb. 27, 2012. For more information, visit the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art (420 S. Tryon St.) online at www.bechtler.org.

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