Exhibit of the week
Less Is a Bore: Maximalist Art and Design
At the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, through Sept. 22
The backlash against minimalism in art may have been inevitable, but it has been anything but organized, said Jonathon Keats in Forbes.com. An important exhibition in Boston this summer suggests that the opening shot was a small 1976 group show that filled the walls of a downtown New York City gallery with the decidedly pretty work of 10 little-known artists. “To a casual passerby, the paintings might have appeared to be innocuous wall covering made for a luxury hotel or condo. But Ten Approaches to the Decorative—the inaugural showing of a new movement called Pattern and Decoration—was nothing less than a full-frontal assault on 20th-century modernism.” Even though the movement itself soon faded, its embrace of decorative traditions such as wallpaper, carpets, and fabric pointed a way forward for other artists impatient with the essentialism and asceticism of much art from the modernist era.
At the ICA Boston show that the ’76ers inspired, “feeling overwhelmed is a distinct possibility,” said Pamela Reynolds in WBUR.org. “What you’ll find here is a no-holds-barred, full-immersion blast of living and creating with abandon, no concern about being a little, well, ‘loud.’” The oldest work in the show is a 1969 sculpture by Lucas Samaras, which offers “a humorous vision of a chair, adorned in primary colors and exploding, cheekily, like a furniture version of a jack-in-the-box.” That work was made shortly after architect Robert Venturi twisted the “less is more” dictum of modernism to coin the phrase that gives this show its title, and Venturi’s attitude appears to have gradually grown contagious. Luminaries such as Sol LeWitt, Frank Stella, and Jasper Johns are revealed here to have dipped their toes in visual excess, joining a larger movement whose celebration of patterning and of crafts associated with women’s work presented “a not-so-subtle challenge to the male domination of the art world.”
“It’s no coincidence that many of the works here were never sold,” said Murray Whyte in The Boston Globe. “That’s what happens when transgressors buck the norms,” and “maximalism” is a term that describes not a historical movement but a free-floating hunger for gaudiness and busyness that defies normal notions of good taste. “Done right, maximalism should feel slightly illicit.” Take Robert Zakanitch’s “colossal, ravishing” 1992 painting Big Bungalow Suite III. “It’s a sticky mess of thickly painted repeating forms of fruit and foliage.” With its 30-foot sprawl, “it feels like excess and rot” and “it’s spectacular.” So what if the only thing that makes maximalism cohere as an art-world concept is a sense of too-muchness? “It gives permission for joy. It colors way outside the lines, and that’s a good thing.”
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times/Redux, courtesy of the artist and DC Moore Gallery ■