Understanding the Abstract

On Saturday March 28, the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art hosted a panel discussion located in the heart of their exhibit, “Geometries of Difference New Approaches to Ornament and Abstraction.” Curator of the exhibit, Murtaza Vali, moderated the event. Panelists included SUNY New Paltz Professor Amy Cheng and two of the artists in the show, Kamrooz Aram and Jeffrey Gibson.

“A lot of people want to learn more about exhibits and hear the artist speak on behalf of their own work,” Dorsky Curator Daniel Belasco said.

According to Vali, the show is about thinking of ornament and abstractionism as not belonging to one specific culture and expressing the voices beyond those of dead white men.

Prior to this show there was an exhibition in Dubai entitled “Brute Ornament.” Vali stated that the exhibit began with a conversation between himself, Aram and another artist in the show, Seher Shah.

The exhibit then moved to the Dorsky where Vali wanted to expand the focus beyond Islamic art and incorporate art styles from around the world, including Gibson’s work, which blends his Native American heritage with international modernism.

Gibson stated that he wanted his work to demonstrate what it would have looked like if Native Americans had been a part of the discussion and artistic movement of 20th Century modernism.

While Gibson is highly influenced by his Native American background and Aram is by Islamic art and architecture, they both try to look at abstractionism as being more than purely decorative.

According to Aram, the last time he was in Iran was 14 years ago, and he posed this question to himself, “Couldn’t we look at modern painting in the same way that we have been looking at Persian carpets?”

Aram begins his paintings by first drawing the pattern of a Persian carpet, then painting over the drawing and covering things up in order to find what he has lost.

Aram said that his paintings in the show are partially decorative, just like how Pollock’s painting can be seen as ornamental.

Meanwhile, Cheng recalls seeing a Matisse painting in high school and standing stupefied in front of it, asking herself if this was even allowed in the art world.

“Patterning is something that connects with our nervous system in a very primal way,” Cheng said.

Kathi Norklun, a former SUNY New Paltz adjunct in the art history department, took Cheng’s drawing class and was interested in returning to the school for this event.

“I had seen the show and found myself extremely fascinated with Gibson’s work,” Norklun said.

“Geometries of Difference New Approaches to Ornament and Abstraction” will remain in the Dorsky until April 12.