A Certain Ratio


Roots & Culture Contemporary Art Center
1034 n Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
hours: Thurs. & Fri 4p-7p, Sat 12p-6p

from RAC: In 1984 Frank Stella stated the following:
“I have no difficulty appreciating (and up to a point understanding) the great abstract painting of modernism’s past, the painting of Kandinsky, Malevich, and Mondrian, but I do have trouble with their dicta, their pleadings, their defense of abstraction. My feeling is that these reasons, these theoretical underpinnings of theosophy and anti- materialism have done abstract painting a kind of disservice…”

We have seen a return to abstraction in the past decade. And while, in our current moment, the entire canon of Modernism is readily available to rehash, remix, and reconfigure, there is a significant looking back to the very earliest abstractionists and their inquiries into the esoteric and mystical.

In the first few decades of the 20th century, artists such as Piet Mondrian, Frantisek Kupka, and Hilma Af Klimt were influenced by the studies of The Theosophical Society. Founded by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in 1875, the Society was a spiritual think tank that practiced comparative studies of science, philosophy, and religion. In their theological pursuits, the Society adopted a symbology that conflated glyphic motifs from across world religions- Western, Eastern,and antiquated. The painters mentioned above as well as early American abstractionists such as Marsden Hartley were engaged with these ideas of universal spirituality and visually borrowed from Theosophical symbology.

At the intersection of the mathematical sciences and religious study is the theory of Sacred Geometry. This idea of relating sacred meaning to mathematical proportions has historically been prescribed to design, art, music, and architecture. The idea traces back to Plato who stated that “God geometrizes continually”. The Golden Ratio is a number often encountered when taking the ratios of distances in simple geometric figures. This number has fascinated many of the great thinkers throughout history from Pythagoras to da Vinci and its proportions were employed to design some of the greatest architecture from the Parthenon to Le Courbusier. This irrational number occurs often in nature, which has lent to a recurring pre- occupation with its metaphysical significance. Sacred geometry and the golden ratio lend themselves to a Theosophical observation of the universe, conflating mathematical theory and nature-based spiritualism. Likewise, the geometric reduction of natural forms to convey a mystical order was employed by the early abstractionists.

The five artists in “A Certain Ratio” engage abstraction to investigate these classic philosophical inquiries. A reduction of form to symbolic or geometrical composition imparts their work with a depth of mystical pursuit. This is a dialectical approach to the position stated above by Mr. Stella, which expresses the dominate role of abstraction since Minimalism of a strict, materialistic formalism, emptied out of signs.


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