Open This End: Contemporary Art from the Collection of Blake Byrne
Judging by the trio of exhibitions currently up in and around Downtown, it’s safe to say that contemporary art is finding an audience in Columbus. Between Us is Them on view the Pizzuti Collection, the current exhibitions at the newly renovated CCAD Contemporary Art Space (featuring Beverly Fishman, Cordy Ryman, MJ Bole and Charles Atlas) and Open This End at the OSU Urban Arts Space, art lovers in central Ohio have the chance to view more big-name contemporary artists than at any time in recent memory. Add in the works on view at the Wexner Center’s After Picasso show and the work at the newly expanded Columbus Museum of Art, and things are, well, given the season, downright cornucopiatic.
In the context of Columbus’ growing reputation as a progressive and forward-thinking city, this focus on contemporary art seems altogether fitting. Let’s face it, the chance for Columbus to build an old school Beaux-Arts style palace filled with Old Masters has come and gone. While museums in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Toledo were amassing priceless collections from Europe courtesy of 19th-Century industrialists and gilded age fortunes, Columbus was quietly running the affairs of the State while dabbling in retail, banking, and education. Sure, those endeavors didn’t seem like much at the time, but history has proven kind to our white collar, service oriented initiatives and we’re arguably better now for them. Point being, if you want to watch varnish dry on 300 year old paintings, you need only drive a couple hours in any direction. If you want to get with the now, you need only drive 15 minutes.
We can thank the OSU Urban Arts Space for part of this. In addition to supporting a number of local arts initiatives, the Urban Arts Space has also been bringing world-class contemporary art right to our door. Open This End continues the efforts by showcasing some of the most ground-breaking art and artists of the last 50 years. It’s an exhibition that highlights a renowned collector (Blake Byrne consistently makes the ArtNews Top 200 Collectors list), as well as the curatorial talents of Joseph Wolin.
The exhibition surveys the last half-century of contemporary art through the prism of Byrne’s collection. The earliest piece, Andy Warhol’s Open This End dates from 1962. The most recent (John Baldessari’s Double Bill (Part 2). . . and Ernst) is from 2012. In between are highlights from Pop Art, Conceptualism, Minimalism, the Pictures Generation, and performance art. Taken together the works offer a chance to see how far art and its creators have come in the last 50 years.
It’s a fascinating journey, too. The Ed Ruscha Parking Lots series teases beauty from the mundane, while illustrating in no uncertain terms the costs of our car-centric culture. Sherrie Levine’s Black Newborn and Un Pipe explore the intersection of appropriation and art history. Robert Gober’s Untitled is part optical illusion, part material transformation, and part homage to Malevich’s famously placed Black Square. Paul McCarthy’s Masks maintain a stark, documentary quality while hinting at the grotesque portraits of Francis Bacon.
Those works are just the tip of the iceberg. Fans of contemporary European painters will appreciate the chance to view works by Luc Tuymans, Sigmar Polke, Martin Kippenberger, and Albert Oehlen. Similarly, the inclusion of nearly a dozen works by Marlene Dumas elevates Open This End to the status of “must see”. Dumas’ visceral and uncompromising paintings are the essence of Burke’s sublime; terrible, painful, and pleasurable. The opportunity to enjoy this many of her works all at once is rare indeed.
…but stop now and know this: the preceding paragraphs, while accurate and presumably informative, really sanitize the whole enterprise. Sure, they tell you a little about the art, but they tell you absolutely nothing about experiencing it. They make Open This End sound neat and orderly when it’s anything but. This is art that is unwieldy; unwieldy and challenging. It’s art that’s pushed boundaries and buttons. It’s art that’s incited vandalism. It’s fanned the flames of the culture wars and challenged notions of intellectual property. It’s art that makes people like Robert Florczak narrate myopic and reactionary videos like this: Why is Modern Art so Bad?
Personally, it’s art I’m fine with; grateful for even. Given the choice between sending artists out in search of truth and sending artists out in search of beauty, I’m going to choose truth every single time (I know, false dichotomy, but I’m trying to make a point here). My hunch is Blake Byrne would feel similarly. This is an exhibition that’s not afraid of hard questions and hard answers. It’s a collection that pushes boundaries and forces viewers to step outside their comfort zone. There’s an old saying among librarians, “My library has something to offend everyone”. Art should have similar aspirations.
From that perspective, enjoy Open This End, but be prepared to choose sides. And whether you love it or hate it, know that this is the now.
Open This End: Contemporary Art from the Collection of Blake Byrne is on view at the OSU Urban Arts Space through Saturday November 7th. More information can be found at uas.osu.edu.
Black Newborn: 7
Cast and sandblasted black glass, 8 x 5 ½ inches
Collection of Blake Byrne
Study for Negro Sunshine II, #11
Oil stick and gesso on paper, 10 x 8 inches
The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, partial and promised gift of Blake Byrne
Self-inflatable mylar fabric, integrated fan, 74 3/4 x 35 3/8 inches
Collection of Blake Byrne
Wood, steel, and enamel, 81 5/8 x 58 x 41 3/8 inches (207.3 x 147.3 x 105.1 cm)
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, partial and promised gift of Blake Byrne
Watercolor and ink on paper, 9 ¼ x 12 ½ inches
Collection of Blake Byrne