Exhibit of the week
Dimensionism: Modern Art in the Age of Einstein
Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, Mass., through July 28
“It isn’t often that a single document—or an exhibition built upon it—can shift one’s perception of a historical movement,” said Edward Rothstein in The Wall Street Journal. But a new show assembled by Amherst College’s Mead Art Museum could convince many art lovers that innumerable pioneers of 20th-century modernism were realists in disguise. Not that the “Dimensionist Manifesto,” a previously obscure 1936 document written by Hungarian poet Charles Sirato, reset art’s course. But the Paris-based Sirato and his brief declaration won the signatures of Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Wassily Kandinsky, and other luminaries because he was advocating beliefs they already held: that advances in science, beginning with Albert Einstein’s insights about the relationship between space and time, demanded art that could penetrate surfaces and depict a more complex truth.
Fortunately, artists don’t communicate in equations or dry dissertations, said Robert Taylor in the San Jose Mercury News. This “insightful and sometimes delightful” exhibition instead treats visitors to 70 engaging works of art, beginning with a small 1917 Pablo Picasso painting, Young Girl in an Armchair. Eventually, we encounter objects that might even have been influenced by Sirato, including Calder’s Lobster Trap and Fishtail, a 1937-38 mobile that represents Calder’s first kinetic sculpture. At about the same time, photographer Herbert Matter used a strobe light to capture and celebrate rapid motion in East Indian Dancer, Pravina. And in the context of the art world wrestling with Einsteinian physics, sculptor Isamu Noguchi is “practically a performance artist.” Bucky, a whimsical wood-and-wire creation from 1943, is his attempt to depict Einstein’s theory of relativity as explained to him by inventor Buckminster Fuller. A spiky black pâpier-maché starburst from 1944 is Noguchi’s bid to make visible an exploding atom.
Dimensionism, despite its idealism, allowed room for worries about the impact of new technologies, said Murray Whyte in The Boston Globe. In the show’s final room, the mood shifts from upbeat to anxious with an array of “bleak and gorgeous” works “brimming with dark portent.” Robert Matta’s Genesis, from 1942, presents “an icy abstract vision of a world collapsing into itself.” Noguchi also turns grim, with Time Lock (1944-45), a rough block of marble mounted on a wooden pillar in a way that “feels like entropy.” But who in our own time can blame artists of the nuclear age for worrying about where technology was heading? “If anything, dimensionism’s moment now feels like a dry run for the main event. We’re living it.”