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Jason Olson, Deseret News
Visitors look through Donald Judd's "Untitled," comprising four cubes made of aluminum and Plexiglas in "Turning Point: The Demise of Modernism and Rebirth of the Meaning in American Art."

PROVO — Cool has come to Provo.

With "Turning Point: The Demise of Modernism and the Rebirth of Meaning in American Art" at the BYU Museum of Art through Jan. 3, visitors come face to face with artwork by two groups of '60s and early '70s American artists who rebelled against current trends in modernism.

"This exhibition is an important historical exhibition focusing on a narrow but highly significant period in American and world art history," said Campbell Gray, director of the Museum of Art. According to Gray, the period extends from 1960-72, the moment when the tenets of modernist art collapsed under pressure from newer forms of artistic expression.

"At this moment," Gray said, "the United States of America had the greatest influence on the history of world art, and the results of the change formed the foundation of all that we see in contemporary art today."

The 31 pieces in the exhibit include large abstract paintings by modernist adherents

Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski and Frank Stella; minimalist works by Ronald Bladen, Donald Judd and Robert Morris; and conceptual works by Terry Atkinson, Robert Berry, Ian Burn, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, Mel Ramsden, Lawrence Weiner and Sol LeWitt.

"Turning Point" also includes works by contemporary artists Jenny Holzer, Byron Kim, Marco Maggi, Maggie Michael and Georges Rousse. These works help visitors understand how the reaction against modernism opened the door for a wide variety of voices to be expressed in a diverse array of media.

"These rebels of the late 1960s restored volume, space, context and most important, a recognition of an intellectually and emotionally engaged viewer to the art experience," said Gray. "They repudiated the idea of a single, ruling art authority and opened the door for many voices to be heard and many paths of meaning to be pursued."

To Gray's thinking, the richness and vitality of today's post-modernist art world "owes much to the minimalist and conceptual artists of the late 1960s whose revisionist ideas remade the art world."

While the museum has created an open-space, contemporary environment in which to display the show, "Turning Point" is easily divided into four areas: late abstraction, minimalism, conceptualism and contemporary art.

The artists of the late-abstractionist movement did not want their works to contain references to anything outside the canvas itself. The goal was to arrest the eyes of the viewer, and keep them on the surface of the canvas.

Stella's "Agbatana III," 1968, (fluorescent acrylic on canvas) measures 10 feet by 15 feet and is a consummate example of the movement's goal of keeping the viewers' eyes riveted to the brightly colored, protractoresque designed canvas.

With Olitski's large "Pearlescent Flood," 1970, (acrylic on canvas, 93 inches by 125 inches), viewers can't help but investigate every square inch of its deceptively simple surface.

Minimalists challenged the principles and practices of late-abstraction artists, eliminating their distinctive hand. Minimalists made solid geometric forms that could be industrially produced from glass, steel, zinc, lead, clay or plastic.

Donald Judd's 1969 installation piece, "Untitled" (four aluminum and Plexiglas cubes in series), illustrates this movement perfectly. Look for it on the floor upon entering the show.

Conceptual artists focused on the mind, elevating the thought process to the role of creator. The actual art object was not intended to be the work of art, only a stimulus for the mind to construct the artwork in the imagination.

Sol LeWitt's "49 Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes," 1967-71, consists of 49 enamel-on-steel-box constructions clumped randomly, or so it seems, on the floor. Viewers can make of it what they will.

Jenny Holzer's "Truisms 2 (English)," 1977-79, (mini LED sign) measures 4 inches by 5 inches and is an excellent example of contemporary art, wherein artists use a wide range of materials to challenge, enlighten and excite viewers, searching for a dialogue to explore cultural, social and personal issues.

"Turning Point" will irritate some viewers, those who simply want to gaze upon a resplendent, recognizable image. Others will ridicule the exhibit: taunting patrons under their breath for wasting time with the art. Fortunately, there will also be those who will thoroughly enjoy the exhibit and see it for what it is — an opportunity to experience art history through the eyes of some of America's most important artists.


If you go ...

What: Turning Point: The Demise of Modernism and the Rebirth of Meaning in American Art

Where: BYU Museum of Art, 404 N. Campus Drive, BYU, Provo

When: Through Jan. 3

Gallery hours: Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.;

Saturday, noon-5 p.m.;

Sunday, closed

How much: Free

Phone: 422-8287

Web: www.byu.edu/moa

Also: Tours conducted during regular museum hours must be scheduled a week in advance (422-1140)


E-mail: [email protected]