By DALEY JENNINGS
Modern art pieces were pulled from storage last month and put on display for the Phyllis Ridderhof Martin Gallery’s exhibition “Embodiment: figurative works from UMW’s permanent collection.” This exhibition, which could also have been called “The ode to naked form,” was open from September 2 through October 6.
The artwork was chosen by former collections manager Charles “Alex” Trivette, featuring some of his favorite works by Mary Washington alumni such as Phyllis Ridderhof Martin, whom the gallery is named for, and Margaret Sutton as well as other artists such as Arshille Gorky, Hans Burkhardt, Tetsuo Ochikubo, Nicholas Vasilieff, Alfred Levitt and Dorothy Van Winckel.
Most of the figurative pieces were drawn from nude bodies in different colors and positions, while a select few took on concepts such as music, the beginning of a journey and subjects as simple as a nun’s jacket on a coat rack.
In the two-room layout, the placement of the artwork made the main feature Phyllis Ridderhof Martin’s paintings “Three Graces” in the first room, and “Untitled (woman in doorway)” in the second. The paintings contrast each other in color and variety.
While both have nude women as the main subject, “Three Graces” sees three women painted with more natural and muted colors, except for the electric blue paint used for the eyes of the woman in the middle, with an almost enticing stare, locking the viewer in a silent challenge. In her piece “Untitled (figure in the doorway)”, she uses far more vibrant colors in a saturated portrait of a nude woman looking out of a doorway. Both find its subjects in a vulnerable state but unashamed in their vulnerability.
Focus on the nude body wasn’t only a prevalent theme in Martin’s pieces. Hans Burkhardt took a more stripped down technique, with his pastel on paper approach. While they look like they could’ve been taken straight from his sketchbook and put in a frame, it’s that quality that set his pieces apart from the rest. His specialty as an artist is abstract expressionism, which is shown brilliantly in his presentation of the everyday of the nude human body on such a simple canvas and making it gallery worthy.
Margaret Sutton is a bit of a savant in the form of figurative artwork, and her pieces for this exhibit were no exception. In particular, “Untitled (clothed figure with deer and cat)” was particularly eye-catching with its use of the contrasting colors of tan, blue and white.
The varied patterns and paint strokes, while bordering on abstract, at first look a mess. But they draw the viewer in to the little details of the piece, noticing how different designs are seemingly laissez-faire yet painted intentionally as to complement the subtle transition between the templates in the painting.
“Untitled (figures on a park bench)” has a much firmer foot in the figurative realm, with two very distinct people (fully clothed) sitting on a park bench, facing away from each other. It has the feel of a sophisticated cartoon you would see in the newspaper on a Sunday morning, and think to yourself “oh that’s fancy!” It stands out in how it has firm lines instead of the rigorous paint or pastel strokes of the other pieces, with the varied pattern characteristic that was present in her other artwork at the gallery.
The next exhibition set to take over the Phyllis Ridderhof Martin Gallery is “Buddhist Art from the Past and Present: BG Muhn &The Leidecker Collection.” The opening reception will be on March 14, 2020.