Featuring soundtracks set somewhere between psychedelic and funk, Professor Carl Ostendarp’s, Department of Fine Arts, ongoing Johnson Museum exhibits Fat Cakes and Myopic Void will take viewers on a culture trip back to the transformative era of the late-1960s and early-1970s.
Noting this time period as a vital age in the contemporary art movement, Ostendarp spent the past summer scouring through the University’s extensive collection of 60s and 70s art works. Those decades, as Ostendarp explained, “changed everything about art, how we viewed it and how we talked about it.” Ostendarp’s eclectic use of paintings, sculptures and works on paper capture the rise of alternate art forms in this time period, such as contemporary, process and photo art.
What ties all the art works together, besides their commonality with a certain era, is Ostendarp’s selection of music and his wall-covering murals. The music playing through Fat Cakes, is a funky jazz beat by organist Jimmy McGriff, while guests of Myopic Void are treated to the heavier, more trippy tune of the 1970s group Captain Beyond. “The goal of the music is to keep people in the present tense,” explains Ostendarp. “It keeps people aware of the environment and the time period they’re in.” And one should not be remised for forgetting what the current year is, amongst the music and artwork of a bygone era.
Ostendarp’s own murals, which cover both exhibits’ walls, only further add to the viewer’s sense of the 1960s environment. The walls of Fat Cakes are painted with two differing shades of pastel green, while the walls of Myopic Void contrast pink and red. The line that is created when the two contrasting color shades meet; continues across all four walls, even across the sections of the room when the walls are replaced for entrances. The continuing flow of the mural helps, as Ostendarp points out, “the viewer consider the entire room as an entire entity.”
While the music and wall shades are alike in both exhibits, the setup of each room differs considerably. As the exhibits names (taken from Jimmy McGriff and Captain Beyond songs respectively) suggest, Fat Cakes is a smaller yet more crowded room while Myopic Void is set in a larger gallery with more open spaces. In Fat Cakes, Ostendarp has littered the room with 37 different paintings and works on paper, all evenly spaced out from each other. With a minimalist Donald Judd sculpture anchoring the exhibit from the center, Fat Cakes appears to be the more rigidly structured room of the two. Yet the uneven painting placements in Myopic Void are no mistake. By placing certain paintings very close together, Ostendarp creates the sense of an ongoing conversation occurring between certain paintings. By placing Andy Warhol’s “Most Wanted Men No. 1” so close to Nicholas Krushenick’s “Beaujolais,” Ostendarp creates the illusion that the wanted man is actually having intense dialog with Krushenick’s abstract piece.
As the Director of the Johnson Museum, Stephanie Wiles said she appreciates the thought behind the spacing of each artwork. “It is the way he plays around with a visitor’s normal expectations of what a gallery should look like,” she said. “When everything isn’t evenly spaced out, it makes you ask, ‘Why is that piece set off that way.’”
Having prepared similar exhibitions in the past, first at Frankfurt, Germany’s famed MMK, and more recently at the Rhode Island School of Design, Ostendarp had a fairly clear vision of what the exhibition’s layouts would be prior to selecting the artworks. The main unknown element for Ostendarp was which works to select. Besides the prerequisite of having to be from the 1960s or 70s, the artwork Ostendarp selected followed a simple rule: Ostendarp had to like it. “I’m selfish,” he explained. “I want to see work by artists I’m most interested in.” Ostendarp hopes his interests will match the interests of many of the exhibits’ attendees.
Running through March 25, Fat Cakes and Myopic Void are great opportunities to capture the sights and sounds of a pivotal movement in contemporary art history, while one might occasionally need a reminder that you are not in 1965.