Art Review: How A Gallery Space Affects An Exhibition

Oct 16, 2013

This week, I returned to the Wichita Art Museum eager to visit the exhibition: Learning to See: Josef Albers and The Interaction of Color.

This small exhibition pulls work from the museum’s permanent collection to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Albers’ now-classic publication, The Interaction of Color. Albers’ book and formalist artwork explore color relationships, asserting that how we perceive color is highly dependent on its surroundings. Albers’ assertion is correct, as evidenced by the unfortunate display of his work in the Vollmer Gallery.

The exhibition, totaling eight art works, is mounted in a tucked away, poorly lit space with dull gray walls. These vibrant works lose their intensity in this dim, listless space. It’s like they’re trying desperately to be cheerful on a dreary, overcast day. What good is a color theory show when the space ruins the color?

Of the eight works, five belong to Albers - four prints and one study painting. They are from his famous Homage to the Square series, with the exception of his print Pillars. This print, which opens the show, is further burdened with four cartoon speech bubbles, each with a quote from Albers’ text. It feels gimmicky to have Albers literally speak through his work, where a wall label would have worked just as well.

The remaining three artworks belong to Russian artist Ilya Bolotowsky; Swiss artist Max Bill; and Albers’ student at Yale, American painter Richard Anuszkiewicz. His Op Art painting From Blue anchors the entire show, but it, like the others, is robbed of full potency by drab surroundings.