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New exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg celebrates Color Acting
Josef Albers (American, born Germany, 1888-1976), I-Sj (1973). Silkscreen on paper. Gift of Linda H. Brink©2013 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
ST. PETERSBURG, FL.- Painter, teacher, and color theorist Josef Albers (1888-1976) wrote that “color is the most relative medium in art,” as there are endless factors that change the way we experience it. Color is never seen as it “really is.”

Color Acting: Abstraction Since 1950, on view from Saturday, July 6, through Sunday, September 22, examines what Albers has called the “discrepancy between physical fact and psychic effect” in the experience of color. Technically, we see color via photoreceptors in our retinas. But that does not encompass the psychological effects of color or its inherent optical illusions.

Drawn primarily from the MFA collection, Color Acting features approximately 40 works and presents both formal and more expressionistic explorations of color. Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant is the exhibition sponsor. All Museum exhibitions and educational programs are sponsored in part by The Stuart Society. The Tampa Bay Times is the Media Sponsor.

Many works encourage a sense of viewer participation. Gene Davis (1920-1985) urges the audience to “enter the painting through the door of a single color, and then you can understand what my painting is all about.” His work also has a musical dimension. The vertical lines in his large canvases can be seen almost as piano strings, and there is a rhythm to his oeuvre.

Like Davis and Albers, Israeli artist Yaacov Agam (born in 1928) was represented in the famous Op Art exhibition The Responsive Eye (1965) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which examined modes of visual perception. Agam’s two prints in Color Acting reveal his vibrant palette and playful sense of pattern.

The two contemporary, cutting-edge photographers with works in the exhibition—Jessica Eaton (born 1977) and Jessica Labatte (born 1981)—engage explicitly with the theories of Albers. Eaton’s cfaal 279 (2012) depicts multicolored nested cubes that recall Albers’ Homage to the Square series. But her work has a hazy glow and an imprecision to the geometry, indicating her own intricate approach.

Labatte’s Cross Processed Series refers to Albers’ legacy as a color theorist and teacher. Cutting up Color Aid papers (a teaching tool popularized by Albers) into variously sized triangles, she creates small, abstract compositions using harmonious color techniques. After photographing these compositions, she “cross-processes” the film, resulting in unexpected color combinations. She subverts conventional color theory and achieves surprisingly beautiful results.

Color Acting also spotlights work by Ilya Bolotowsky, Leon Berkowitz, Norman Bluhm, Martin Canin, Robyn Denny, Helen Frankenthaler, Stanley William Hayter, Hans Hinterreiter, Fredric Karoly, Stanton MacDonald-Wright, Joan Mitchell, Ludwig Sander, and Frank Stella.

A suite from Pierre Mabille’s New York Series (2000-2001), on loan from Blue Acier in Tampa, will also be displayed. The six pastel and acrylic works on paper use the same ovoid form, but challenge perception through fluctuations in color. Richard Anuszkiewicz’s luminous Inward Eye #5 (1970), lent by MFA trustee Royce Haiman, is from his noted series of serigraphs paired with selections by the English Romantic poet William Blake. Anuszkiewicz was an Albers student at Yale University. Katherine Pill, Assistant Curator of Art after 1950, has organized the exhibition—her first at the MFA.

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