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Beauty Reigns at the McNay Museum

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Beauty Reigns: A Baroque Sensibility in Recent Painting at the McNay Museum captures a post-graffiti sensibility mixing visual elements of design, illustration, graphics, and artistic liberties; drawing the viewer into a world of sensory overload.

The McNay Museum’s press release says “Beauty Reigns features the work of thirteen intergenerational emerging and mid-career abstract painters, working in studios across the United States. The exhibition is organized by René Paul Barilleaux, the McNay’s Chief Curator/Curator of Art after 1945, and celebrates the exoticism, exuberance, and optimism found in the artists’ work. Among the shared characteristics found in this highly diverse group, in whole or part, are high-key color, layering of surface imagery, use of overall and repeated patterns, stylized motifs, fragmented representations, and a tension between melancholy and the sublime.
The exhibition surveys works by artists with both national and international perspectives.

Americans Annette Davidek, Nancy Lorenz, and Ryan McGinness are based in New York. Charles Burwell lives and works in Pennsylvania; Paul Henry Ramirez in New Jersey; Rex Ray in California; Rosalyn Schwartz in Illinois; and Susan Chrysler White in Iowa. Global visual vocabularies are expressed in works by Jose Alverez (D.O.P.A), born in Venezuela and based in Florida; Kamrooz Aram, Iran/New York; Jiha Moon, South Korea/Georgia; Fausto Fernandez, born in Texas, raised in Mexico, and currently based in California; and Beatriz Milhazes, a Brazilian Native who continues to live and work in her home country.”
“Beauty Reigns: A Baroque Sensibility in Recent Painting confirms a vitality of abstract painting today,” Barilleaux said. “This exhibition requires that the viewer travel to and voyage through visual territory that seems somewhat foreign, or somewhat familiar, yet always rewarding.”

Only a Thief Thinks Everybody Steals, by Ryan McGinness is the highlight of the museum presentation, summarizing the overall aesthetic of the exhibition; staying true to all organizational prose and manifested ideals of what Beauty Reigns: A Baroque Sensibility in Recent Painting is about. We see a throwback to advertising, Middle Eastern and Eastern tapestries and a certain post-pop construction. With Barnett Neuman-esque mannequins, corporate logo deviations, bold graphic symbology, animal pattern, royal crests, and linear fetishes – McGinness layers hue with heavy-loaded and hedonic sensibilities. Our eye, looking for anchor is greeted with neon yellow overload, garish greens, a post nuclear pink apocalypse, and a cobalt calamity; all radiating internally –pulsating like cells, heating up for a visual artistic explosion.

Meanwhile, Big Perfume by Rosalyn Schwartz exemplifies the simplistic susceptibility of Modernist tendencies that bridged the Cubist constructions. Schwartz is visually recycled from Barilleaux’s recent curatorial “A Brief History of Seduction”, an exhibition that just ended in January 2014. We are familiar with her work enough to understand the attraction and seductive nature for Beauty Reigns: A Baroque Sensibility in Recent Painting, but upon first glance the simplistic nature of Big Perfume is far from Barilleaux’s extrovert exercise, or his “exoticism, exuberance, and optimism.” Pink vase outlines match up to Cubist views, resting on pedestals turned arches. A still life arrangement of grapes is back dropped by vertical stripes on the right, balanced with a yellow fade to black composition on the left side -- filled with intersecting lines. Minus all the provocation arrangements, compositions, and gestalts of the other artworks in the exhibition, Big Perfume gives a calm to storm; a breather of sorts that allows for historical digestion in an ultimate-urban portrayal.

Jose Alverez, Kamrooz Aram, and Paul Henry Ramirez are also three of the artists in Beauty Reigns: A Baroque Sensibility in Recent Painting were also featured in the amended hardcover catalogue of David S. Rubin’s (Former Brown Foundation Curator of Contemporary Art at San Antonio Museum of Art) Psychedelic: Optical and Visionary Art since the 1960s exhibition; curated March 2010.

Not quite Psychedelic Lite, Beauty Reigns has its own flavor mixed with examples of somewhat overused identities, boarding favoritisms. With a stylized artistic appeal, Barilleaux sought to have the audience leave the museum walls and journey into a new realm, met by stimulus that engages us; reflective of acquainted and non-familiar imagery -- worldly as well as mysterious. He accomplishes this task and gives voice to a new generation of mixed eclecticism that breeds cohesive thought—visually and conceptually.

Beauty Reigns: A Baroque Sensibility in Recent Painting is on view at the McNay until August 17, 2014. The exhibition then travels to the Akron Art Museum in Ohio, where it will be on view January 24, 2014 – May 3, 2015.

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