Geometric Elegance: Art in the Age of Computational Beauty

Photo and Video Projection courtesy of (the wildly talented) RJ WardPeter Deise, "Aqua"Featuring artworks by Danielle Hacche, Michael Jacobs, and Travis RiceFeaturing artworks by Lori Fenn, Leenie Engel, Ben Willis, and Grant WigginsFeaturing artworks by Travis Rice, Grant Wiggins, and Lori FennLeenie Engel, "Colorbox7 – RR/7"

Geometric abstraction has a long history reaching all the way back to early modernism and beyond. No one can say if contemporary geometric art has its origins in Constructivism, De Stijl, Synchromism, Suprematism, or Synthetic Cubism because they were all harbingers of a growing fascination with architectonic elements in art. It can be argued that the rigid contours of Futurism, the mechanical method of Pointillism, or the way that the Divisionist’s sectioned off space were just as influential to the development of geometric art as any of the other early movements of early modernism. Even the designs of the Bauhaus exerted a decisive influence on what would amount to thinking about the picture plane in a flat, and often, unmodulated manner. Art Informal, Art Concrete and even the Hard Edge painters of Southern California all raised the idea of using mathematical presuppositions to rigor their compositions, but tended to rely on reductive means and a rather polemic version of Platonism in order to defend the different ways they incorporated geometric elements into their avant-garde programs. 

And yet, a single vector line, the vibration created between two juxtaposed hues, and the experience of geometric forms as kind of blueprint for the manifest world tended to rely on a hidden idea that many of these groups secretly held in common, and that was the notion of elegant design. Of course, the idea of elegance has been saddled with metaphysical implications from science, perhaps more than any other discipline. An elegant formula was long considered to have a better chance of being a correct than a convoluted proof. Elegance was equally married to the experience of beauty and allure as well, even when the description of these qualities relied on rhetorical claims about the ineffable, the indefinable and the presupposition of a disinterested gaze. Thus, the spurious nature of the kinds of claims that were regularly made on behalf of the experience of elegance lead a great number artists to investigate it constitute components down to the very substratum of line, plane and form, i.e., the geometric dispositif. 

We see this most clearly with figures like Mondrian, who was a Theosophist and looked for the universality of geometry behind all things and tried to replicate these kinds of insights in his own work. Malevich was more of a utopianist, and considered himself to be a doctor of culture, claiming that he had the unique ability to diagnose the problems of aesthetic perception as well as the political ills of society by way of the mathematical purity of his deductions. Max Bill was a metaphysician of the new Concretism in art in much the same way that Lorser Feitelson courted spoke of eternal forms as an Abstract Classicist, but the aesthetics that they proposed still had enough of a family resemblance to be considered part of the teleological movement proposed by Greenberg toward an ever flatter treatment of the picture plane. After all, for Greenberg, Rosenberg and Steinberg, or the "culturebergs" as they were called at the height of modernism, the emergence of geometric abstraction was one part of the movement of art toward defining the limits of the medium, with the other being gestural abstraction. This of course, had to do with an assessment of historical tendencies rather than specifics, of ideological claims rather than individual desires and of political conscription rather than aesthetic experience existing in and for-itself. Contra Kant, the use of the geometric seemed to be anything but disinterested or reflective by the conclusion of the twentieth century, even though it took Neo-Geo’s lead proponent, Peter Halley, to underscore this fact in his canonical collection essays from the late eighties.

Even with all of these interventions about the uses and abuses of geometric motifs in art, many people still think of the architectonic as a rational, controlled and “cool” aesthetic that will always stand in opposition to the emotive, expressive and hot intensity of Action Painting. But as fractal geometries, virtual realities (VR) and advanced computation models spread throughout our culture, older movements like Op-Art, Minimalism and Neo-Concretism have suddenly begun to look more and more conservative with each passing year. And yet, the desert in Arizona has always provided the dynamism of a landscape made up of curvilinear canyons and crescent-shaped sand dunes; of long lines of highway stretched out against the infinite expanse of the horizon; and of the profound clarity provided for by the midday heat butting up against the concrete designs of sprawl and urbanity. 

If life could be contained in geometric contours, than the very best example of it might have been in Arizona where the experimental site of Bio-dome -- a geometric habitat for humans ---mixed the aesthetics of science fiction with sustainable modular living in an effort to explore the idea of living life on other planets sometime in the far-flung future. So, we have to ask, if Geometric art has spread throughout the world during the twentieth century and even projected itself into futures unknown, then what does it mean that geometric art has also found a home here in the Valley of the Sun, and that it is experiencing something of a renaissance as a genre at this time? 

The answer to this question isn’t at all simple, because each of the artistic producers in this show mobilizes the geometric in service of different ends, and many have been at it for a few decades or more. The recognition of these kinds of individual and group accomplishments, beyond the cosmopolitan debates that are often held at the various “centers” of the artworld, can be incredibly slow in assessing radically new developments on the periphery. Even with this being the case, it should in no way detour us from entertaining the proposition that Arizona may very well have a wave of geometric artists work in the Valley who are of the quality and caliber of any canonized group of abstract painters working in the field today, and that the contributions of the artists in Geometric Elegance: Art in the Age of Computational Beauty bares this out upon close examination. Thus, let us treat each project with a specificity and an intimacy that is complimented by the long-term dedication and sophistication that allows for Arizona to be seen as a significant place in the international discussion around geometric abstraction today.

Artists: James Angel, Rowan Burkam, Jeff Davis, Peter Deise, Leenie Engel, Danielle Hacche, Lori Fenn, Daniel Funkhouser, Lisa Von Hoffner, Travis Ivey, Mike Jacobs, Carrie Marill, Francisco Flores Pizano, Mark Pomilio, Travis Rice, Rembrandt Quiballo, Jayson Ward, RJ Ward, Grant Wiggins, and Ben Willis.

Located within: Past.