William Steiger: Thrills
Margaret Thatcher Projects
February 11- March 12, 2016
By ROBERT C. MORGAN, MAR. 2016
Having reviewed and written about William Steiger’s work during an earlier stage of his career, I am taken by the fact that his subject matter and his point of view appear to uphold a consistency. I am not entirely certain as to what this means by today’s standards, but it seems to imply the artist’s ability to sustain a certain ethos, meaning that he returns again and again to explore and investigate both the visual and conceptual terms that carry these dated architectural and playland entertainment phenomena into the age of the Internet. Therefore, the transition between the Post-Industrial and the Informational Age appears all the more pronounced, if not, deftly poignant in articulating a shift in our consciousness through a painterly means of arbitration.
I go to Hilla and Bernd Bechers’ photography to suggest what I believe offers a curious comparison. In the work of the Bechers, there is a similar means of arbitration, poised in a slightly different way, where the precision of their photographs, consistently employs an overcast sky to avoid shadowing, and a horizon taken at midpoint (using a cheery picker) between the ground and full height of the Cooling Towers or the Gas Tanks. Often these icons of industry in the twentieth century are placed in an even grid sequence to reveal the similarity of their design. They might be understood as somewhere between documentation and sculpture, which is not unrelated to the work of Steiger.
Still, I would argue, Steiger avoids extreme forms of documentation in favor of another way of working, namely, through a reductive abstract means of decodification. Here one bears witness to paintings, such as New York I (Digger’s New Yorker) and a three-quarter, backwards view of the sign for Silvercup Studios, both oil on linen paintings from 2016. As with the Bechers, Steiger employs precision in every aspect of his work, but instead of repeating the motif in a grid format, we are shown single examples of these block-formed and/or linear structures. There may be variations on a theme, as for example in Digger’s New York in which he uses a smaller format with various collage elements. These works are shown in separate frames. In recent years, the artist has become more involved with collage techniques that include gouache, glue, and found papers. The precision is maintained in the collages as they carry their own visual affect in terms of the directness by which the structural subject matter is viewed.
What separates Steiger’s paintings and collages from design? He is often confronted with this question. My readymade answer to this would be “the manner in which he uses abstraction.” Certainly one might say that there is abstraction in design, but this kind of abstraction follows different external rules than the kind of approach Steiger performs. Rather Steiger employs abstraction in the way any real painter does: to pronounce the affect of the painting and to give it feeling – not a defined feeling, but an ambiguous one. Art requires some degree of ambiguity in order to exist as art.
Analyzing the painted signage in the magnificent Thrills (2016) or the collage version of Cyclone Rollercoaster #2 (2016) is evidence enough to suggest that Steiger’s awareness of the internal workings of abstract form are what give his work the pulse and excitement that it has. It is a kind of tour-de-force that makes us open our eyes and to re-charge the synaptic connection between the retina and the brain, and thus begin to feel the celebration in this artist’s work as something truly exemplary. WM
Robert C. Morgan is an artist, scholar, poet, teacher, and author. Considered an authority on early Conceptual Art, Dr. Morgan has lectured widely, written literally hundreds of critical essays (translated into twenty languages), published several books, and curated numerous exhibitions. In 1992, he was appointed as the first critic-in-residence at Art Omi International Artists Residency, where in 2016, he was honored as Critic Emeritus. In 1999, he was awarded the first ARCALE prize in International Art Criticism in Salamanca (Spain), and the same year served on the UNESCO jury at the 48th Biennale di Venezia. In 2002, he gave the keynote speech in the House of Commons, London on the occasion of Shane Cullen’s exhibition celebrating the acceptance of “The Agreement” by the UK. In 2003, Dr. Morgan was appointed Professor Emeritus in art history at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and, in 2005, became a Senior Fulbright Scholar in the Republic of Korea. In 2011, he was inducted into the European Academy of Sciences and Arts in Salzburg; and, in 2016, the Department of Special Collections at the Hesburgh Library, University of Notre Dame, purchased The Robert C, Morgan Collection of Conceptual Art. Much of his work since the late 1990s has focused on art outside the West in the Middle East and East Asia where his books have been translated and published into Farsi (Tehran: Cheshmeh, 2010), Korean (Seoul: JRM, 2007), and Chinese (Beijing: Hebei, 2013). Dr. Morgan has worked extensively in China with contemporary ink artists and has authored many catalogs and monographs on Chinese artists. In addition to his scholarly, he continues a parallel involvement as an artist and abstract painter (since 1970) with a major survey exhibition at Proyectos Monclova in Mexico City (March 23 – April 29, 2017). His work has appeared in numerous exhibitions and is included in several important collections.
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