When Edward Lorenz coined the term “butterfly effect” in 1969, he was talking about weather patterns, not art. His theory that a puff of air from a butterfly’s wings could, in the right circumstances, amplify into a hurricane, was radical at the time. The Museum of Art – DeLand has proven its ability to amplify the conversation about art in Central Florida, and just in the last two years has helped change the game. No longer is Central Florida a refuge from ideas; instead it is attracting people with a hunger for visual aesthetics and the stimulation surrounding new ideas. 2015 has started off with three very strong artists: Richard Anuszkiewicz, William Crutchfield, and Richard Haas all contribute unique visions to the conversation, earning the museum a solid position as a new leader in the visual arts of the region.
Dividing its space into an uptown museum and a downtown gallery, the Museum of Art sends people walking on the sidewalks of DeLand, a lively pedestrian experience. Its openings start at happy hour, a smart move on the Museum’s part to capture a crowd already on the move and not ready to go home yet and chill. The haute energy in the uptown museum sets DeLand’s tone for local elegance and sophistication; its downtown space at Woodlands and New York, however, is often the place for the bigger names. The art here may feel more at home in a Manhattan-like loft atmosphere. The two spaces synergize to create a buzz, and the sense that something important going on is, well, increasingly strong.
At the museum’s main facility, Richard Haas and William Crutchfield are on exhibit through April 5. Richard Haas’ architectural drawings make you fall head-over-heels in love with architecture all over again. His rigorous pen-and-ink drawings, dramatically colored, communicate a wild love affair with buildings. His “Empire State Building,” done in 1997 after this icon had undergone a restoration effort, magnifies this building’s presence in one’s mind. His “Chrysler Building,” in the same manner, captures this structure’s unparalleled aspiration to be the monument to man’s triumph of technology in the 20th century.
When I spoke with him recently about his work, Haas explained “I took about 12 years off of architecture to do other things. I was working with a lot of the color field artists, like Richard Anuszkiewicz, doing collage and experimenting with the visual effects of pure color. But something drew me back, made me return to architecture.”
Haas, who spent time interning with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesen, went on to finish art school in Wisconsin. This time in an architect’s atelier was formative, and Haas said “I knew I never wanted to be an architect…but I sure loved architecture.” Richard Haas makes it OK to worship monuments, and in his book, institutions are OK. We are allowed to see the city as an expression of the best of man’s creations; its beauty and aesthetic form has a power and majesty which Haas captures in his work.
Upstairs, William Crutchfield continues to toy with your taste for architecture and machine. Science, that hallmark of contemporary western society, is seen through Crutchfield’s sly eyes as an object of social query. Crutchfield has made a career of injecting irony into his views of technology; sometimes man wins, and sometimes the machine. While his work is satirical, it is underlain still with a reverence towards the situation. In this vein he’s like Haas: neither is an iconoclast, but where Haas’ visions are unleavened appreciation for our institutions, Crutchfield hasn’t quite bought into the party line completely.
With gorgeously colored drawings, Crutchfield presents toy trains made of diamonds, owls transformed into various creatures, and the state of California on crutches (titled “Support California”). His exquisitely rendered images have a studied casualness and a disarming spirit that renders huge machines in lovable ways. Crutchfield rides the line between art and comic book, but his work is never repetitive nor is it cartoonlike. His drawing ethic is so complete, so thorough, that a tiny sketch is entire narrative. “From Logs to Light” depicts a log menaced by a saw, a little house patiently waiting for firewood hovering overhead. The composition, and the dark night surrounding these earnest protagonists, is more balanced than many a larger painting in lesser hands.
Crutchfield’s questing eye has, for four decades, continued to uncover the paradox of man’s uneasy truce with technology. Pairing the two artists makes for a nuanced tour between the sincere and the wry. One comes from the experience refreshed, the dark shadows of science and technology disarmed, and, for at least the time being, fears about machines are banished to the dustbin.
For a singular, more personal relationship with the edge of the visual experience, look no further than the op-art world of Richard Anuszkiewicz. By the mid 1960s, he had almost singlehandedly superseded the Abstract Expressionists, creating a new movement around the specific visual effects produced by color alone. Coined “color field” by art critic Clement Greenberg, his work was groundbreaking, yet drew from a very long tradition by artists who knew how to manipulate perception with color. Anuszkiewicz caps the Museum’s suite of work with a deeply moving body of work.
A student of the legendary color theorist Josef Albers, Anuszkiewicz declined the brushy, drippy style in vogue with the “action painters” like Jackson Pollock. Instead, a sensuous drama takes place within one’s mind upon viewing his color studies. Sensuous, because the viewer moves to activate an effect of the eye; sensuous also because multiple effects scintillate the mind while viewing a painting of his, effects at once primitive and sophisticated at the same time.
Stand in front of a painting such as the monumental “Mardi Gras,” a recent color study in his great tradition. In the center, a tiny pink square sets up a series of concentric bands alternating pink, scarlet, mint, vermilion, and cobalt blue. As you slowly step back, the colors effervesce and begin dancing. The painting’s name become self-evident; the chromatic vibration is as close to retinal New Orleans jazz as one can imagine. This is a personal, private experience, one that is impossibly diluted when viewing his work online or in books. It is best experienced with the actual painting, and his shows attract a pilgrimage of artists searching for the true use of color.
Anuszkiewicz has stayed consistent with his early experiments throughout his career, and in this exhibit, an astonishing evolution of technique is available. His 1990 “Inner Warm and Inner Cool” took his flat paintings into the third dimension with narrow, thin flutes painted in two interlocking parallelograms. The resulting gallery wall peeking through each of the two open forms is, indeed, tinted by the colors surrounding it.
Richard Anuszkiewicz alludes to architecture in his work, more subtly perhaps than either Crutchfield or Haas. His fascination with the fluted column comes through in many of his more recent works, and the implication of three-dimensional space – the province of architects – is made in two dimensional studies. Taken together, the three are worth a visit by anyone concerned about the built environment, the importance of visual aesthetics, and our obsession with technology.
Implications of color, architecture, and science are woven together in the three artists’ work at the Museum of Art – DeLand. The rich history of these ideas, dating back to the 1960s and earlier, are handed to viewers with no pretensions or spin. The conversation about this art has tied into aesthetic questions on the lips of many today, and so once again the butterfly effect has proven itself true.