75th-Anniversary Exhibit Celebrates American Abstract Artists

Donohoe, Victoria. “75th-Anniversary Exhibit Celebrates American Abstract Artists,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, 18 Nov. 2011, E32. Review of ABSTRACTION(Abstraction to the Power of Infinity) curated by Janet Kurnatowski at the Icebox and Grey Area of Crane Arts, Philadelphia, PA.

AAA International, Berlin
Will Barnet Joyous 2006

This is the 75th anniversary of American Abstract Artists, an organization of artists who banded together to create a forum for the discussion, exhibition, and promotion of their art.

One of the few artists’ groups launched in the Great Depression, it had clout from the start, and its effort to build better understanding continues today.

“Abstraction to the Power of Infinity” is its exhibition at the Icebox in the Crane Building, featuring 80 living artists, all New Yorkers except for four invited Philadelphians. The event is curated by Janet Kurnatowski, who directs a Brooklyn art gallery. New York’s O.K. Harris Gallery held a recent AAA anniversary show of similar size, with most of the same artists, but different works.

This display in Lower Kensington also pays tribute to AAA’s first centenarian, painter Will Barnet, a member since 1956. Much appreciated locally as a former teacher at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Barnet here offers a vibrant canvas, Joyous, which he painted in 2006.

In this show, strong colors and vigorous strokes activate spatial tensions and create many energetic compositions. And while some of the other abstractions seem familiar and conventional, the best ones show that skill and artistic ambition can be a combustible mixture. Hybrid species of painting and relief sculpture are few, as are other sculptures.

Outstanding are Creighton Michael’s dramatic photo triptych and Mon Levinson’s white-on-white rotund piece. Also worthy of note are pieces by Richard Anuszkiewicz, Steven Alexander, Martin Ball, Gabriele Evertz, Vito Giacalone, John Goodyear, Gilbert Hsiao, Phillis Ideal, Roger Jorgensen, James Juszczyk, Victor Kord, Ce Roser, Irene Rousseau, Richard Timperio, Vera Vasek, Dan Voisine and Stephen Westfall.

The AAA does not play down artists’ honest struggle and achievement, reducing them to a question of who is “in” and who’s “out,” so it is pointless to stick an easy label on these artists. They share qualities of a spirit of experimentation that values questions more than answers, willingness to risk unusual means, courage in getting “messages” across, and also a strong sense of values. And they must keep growing to brush aside conformity and reach toward audacity. A very rewarding show.

The Icebox, Crane Building, 1400 N American St at Master. To Nov. 27. Wed-Sun 12-6. Free.