Whitehot Magazine

This Is the Future of Non-Objective Art at Atlantic Gallery in New York City

Stephen Wozniak, Colonial Square Circling the Wagons, 2022, MDF, pine wood, acrylic paint, 16” x 16” x 2”

By MARTHA COLBURN March 8, 2024 

The sizeable group exhibition of diverse and dynamic abstract works that pack the walls of Atlantic Gallery in This Is the Future of Non-Objective Art seem to defy its mid-century modernist moniker. While painters like Ad Reinhardt of that era insisted that the final goal of abstract art was to make it “purer and emptier, more absolute, non-objective, non-imagist, non-subjective, art-as-art,” abstract artists who have since yielded to inevitable woes, highs and lows that define contemporary life feel differently. Each piece in the show addresses both its maker’s idiomatic concerns—personal, political, ecological, spiritual—and the “sublime” form that curator Suzan Shutan says results from the unexpected sculptural elements that call out for viewers to “feel” their structure instead of merely “read” their composition. 

There is a lot to see in this show—over one hundred works by artists near and far, from Australia and Denmark to Canada and the California coast. Surprising typewritten works by Julia Bloom and Philip Denker hang near a buttercup petals and varnish work by Valerie Hallier that pays homage to the abstract art pioneer Kasmir Malevitch. A few feet away, a pink “painting” on plywood squares juts out, insisting it is any but the medium described. The show’s contrasts are invigorating. Almost every conceivable medium is employed in the creation of each artist’s visual and spatial experience. It’s difficult not to want to reach out and touch the work and determine the artistic practice evident in many pieces on display. 

Some of my favorite works provided rich textural elements that leapt beyond the picture plane, communing with me in the shared space. Emily Haag’s Glowing Fields, an oblong, bio-cellular relief work, looks like an overhead island map covered in volcanic lava. The balmy oranges and rich golds that fill the floating wooden base contrast greatly with the distinct International Yves Klein Blue, which colors the encroaching, molten, sanded material that caps off and bears down on the work. Utilizing Ukrainian flag colors, the piece seems to allude to the weighty tragedy of the current Eastern European war crisis but also to the resilience of the Ukrainians who must persevere against a ruthless oppressor. 

Different works in the show invited me into another world, sensitizing my active and passive perception. One such piece was the delicate Im Bild sein VII by Anne Berlit, a modest-sized square work made from acrylic paint on clear Plexiglas that protrudes a few inches from the wall. Its faint yellow, oblique rectangular forms overlap to create a loose network, casting shadows on the wall below the picture, creating a shifted underworld of form below the picture plane. 

Christine Romanell, Green Gold Quad, 2023. Acrylic paint on wood, 16” x 18” x 2”

Shiho Takahashi’s Water and Stone, Series 2, made from clay and glass provided yet another type of unique moment for me. In the show’s exhibition catalog, the artist describes her works as a sculptural “snapshot”—a way to capture a discreet instance of “beauty in time.” At first glance, I saw the sheer materiality of the white cubes that represent rocks and the cast glass as the water that laps against the shore. But then, I became lost in their interaction, one subsuming the other—something laconic, meditative and even inevitable, like nature itself. 

One unusual piece in the show was the austere and elegant all-white wall work Colonial Square Circling the Wagons by Stephen Wozniak. The title refers to American colonialism, as well as to the circular wagon train formation westward-bound pioneers would often make to defend themselves against the attacks of Native Americans. While American colonists left Europe to escape persecution, secure resources and find a new home, they also created wars, spread deadly illnesses, massacred and displaced indigenous peoples. After looking carefully at the piece, I realized that its “square” elements were made of common colonial door molding juxtaposed over a perfect, redemptive, eternal circle. It’s as if the artist wanted to subvert that tradition of the pervasive interior design style, as much as the conflicted domination or control that, in part, makes up colonialism. The piece floats off of the wall—somewhere between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional, between idea and tangible proactive reality. While looking at the work, I kept thinking about the idiom “You make a better door than a window.” The piece is almost like a gateway or portal to review many of the artist’s ideas like both a door and a window—a real place—something to physically open with action but also to see into and contemplate. 

One last piece I found arresting was a colorful, serialized relief by Christine Romanell entitled Green Gold Quad. Made of laser-cut plywood and acrylic paint, its series of emerald, forest and lime green, diamond-shaped tiles create interlocking circular forms ringed in bright day-glow orange. It is a hypnotic work, reminiscent of fractal geometry found in crystalline formations, nautilus shells and other natural formations. While the artist describes the work as a translation of “digital abstractions,” this piece took me into another dimension, a very real, existential and activated place accessible by the touch of the tangible.

The work in This Is the Future of Non-Objective Art is certainly a product of the now. Our realities are crafted, manipulated, broadcast and buried at lightning speeds on a regular basis in the two-dimensional virtual worlds we live in daily. This work, on the other hand, is almost like an antidote, asking that we look at their very real layers and explore the complexity of their material, composition, heft and structure—the phenomenal truth of the matter at hand, not ideas and flimsy, fleeting TV narratives. Ultimately, I would say that work in the show is telling us that the Future is now.

The artists participating in This is the Future of Non-Objective Art include: Fabian Freese, Leigh Lambert, Judith Duquemin, Louise P. Sloane, Emily Haag, Sabine Friederichs, Shawn Stipling, Susan Scott, Christine Romanell, Roger Bensasson, Mark Van Wagner, Barry Katz, Susan Luss, Adria Arch, Ulla Pedersen, Jill Vasileff, Steven Baris, Herman Van Synghel, Pia Løye, Elizabeth Gourlay, Howard Hersh, Susan Mastrangelo, Barbara Bryn Klare, Anne Berlit, Brooke Nixon, Julie Hedrick, Carleen Zimbalatti, James Okeefe, Greg Chann, Andrew Small, Ilene Sunshine, Wahida Azhari, Shiho Takahashi, Roxy Savage, Michael Kukla, Marietta Hoferer, Philip Denker, Andy Cunningham, Kara Greenwell, Beverly Rautenberg, Gerda Kruimer, Brigitte Radecki, Luuk de Haan, Deb Covell, David Hutchinson, Celia Johnson, Valerie Hallier, Maki Hajikano, Gaston Bertin, Ricardo Paniagua, Molly Gambardella, Guntis Lauzums, Sally Blair, Howard el-Yasin, Susan English, Peter Holm, Heather Binder, Amy Vensel, Jeffery Cortland Jones, Bogumila Stojna, Terri Brooks, Helen O’leary, Jason Clay Lewis, Ivo Ringe, Serhiy Popov, Billy Gruner, Sarah Keighery, Chris Taylor, Frank Campion, Domenica Brockman, Margaret Vega, Jaynie Crimmins, Lauren Rago, Elvira Lantenhammer, Kleopatra Moursela, Christine Löw, Liz Atlas, Sharon Bachner, Julia Bloom, Louise Blyton, Barbara Campisi, Melanie Carr, Gabriel De Gaudi, Michael Dwyer, Michele Foyer, Robert Gregson, Christine Hughes, Liz Jaff, Judy Kamilar, Bonny Leibowitz, Kathleen Miles, Roland Orepuk,Andrew Reach, Julie Shapiro, Scot Sinclair, Yvette Kaiser Smith, Paul Snell, Rossie Stearns, Deneen Underwood, Richard Kooyman, Michael Filan, Patricia Fabricant, Daniel Pailes-Friedman, Susan Knight, Stephen Wozniak, Dana Kane, Sylvia Schwartz, and Daniel Martin. On view February 13 through March 2, 2024.


Martha Colburn

Born in rural Pennsylvania, Martha Colburn is a fine artist and filmmaker based in greater Los Angeles. Her animation and film work has been featured in the Sundance Film Festival, London International Film Festival, San Francisco Museum of Art, New Museum of Contemporary Art, Yale University, Whitechapel Gallery, Museum of Art and Design and the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, among others. Her works are held in numerous permanent collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She and her work have been written about in Art in America, Film Comment, Filmmaker Magazine and the Herald Tribune, among other publications. Colburn is the 2015 recipient of the Creative Capital Award in film and a recipient of the Mondrian Foundation Working Artist Grant. She was a featured artist on the popular PBS television series Art 21. Colburn earned a B.F.A. from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and an M.A. from Rijksakademie Van Beeldende Kunst in the Netherlands. Website: www.marthacolburn.com Instagram: @marthacolburn

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