Active Sight: Vija Celmins and Jackson Pollock from Pictorialism to Perception – Image Journal

ON MAY 16 of this year, Night Sky #2 by Vija Celmins, on view at the 2008 Carnegie International at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art, was vandalized by one of the museum’s own security guards, who used a key to cut a gouge down the painting’s middle, damaging it beyond repair. While this act was universally condemned in art-world news sources, the disclosure that the painting was estimated to be worth $1.2 million sparked a small storm of public debate about Night Sky #2’s purpose and value. One blogger even lobbied the old “a child could have made this” criticism, a salvo regularly aimed at abstract and conceptual art. While the suggestion that many artists, much less children, could rival Celmins’s exacting photorealism is dubious, and there is no point in parsing the motivation of a vandal who has already begun to mount a “mental stress” defense, these attacks on Night Sky #2 raise questions about the assumptions we bring to contemporary painting. While Celmins’s paintings of domestic appliances, seascapes, and spider webs visually engage even viewers unfamiliar or uncomfortable with more obviously conceptual art, Night Sky #2 suggests that representational painting can be a medium of perceptual experience. Celmins’s work challenges the conception of a painting as a picture to be looked at (what is sometimes called pictorialism) and proposes a method of painting that examines how the eye sees and the mind processes visual information—issues critical to our spiritual survival in an increasingly virtual and digital era.

via Active Sight: Vija Celmins and Jackson Pollock from Pictorialism to Perception – Image Journal

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