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Heather Gwen Martin | Creative Pinellas

Heather Gwen Martin, Voyage, 2020, Oil on linen, 82 1/2 x 77 inches. Courtesy of L.A. Louver and Miles McEnery Gallery.

A Lyrical Moment for the Eyes – and Ears

By Kurt Loft

Two visionary women of the art world combine for a powerful impression in the new exhibition The Lyrical Moment: Modern and Contemporary Abstraction by Helen Frankenthaler and Heather Gwen Martin, through July 30 at the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum. This Thursday evening, students and faculty from the USF School of Music perform original interpretations of the visual artwork.

The Lyrical Moment is installed as two thematically linked galleries featuring these visual artists from different generations – Frankenthaler was born in 1928 and died a decade ago; Martin was born in 1977 and continues to work in her studio in Los Angeles.

The exhibition is part of the core mission of the USF Contemporary Art Museum – bringing to the Tampa Bay community vital, investigative and scholarly contemporary shows that are technically and conceptually innovative, says Margaret A. Miller, director of the USF Institute for Research in Art.

Frankenthaler’s painterly and experimental prints include woodcut, screen-printing, intaglio, lithography and mixed media. She broke new grounds through a technique known as the “pour method,” using thinned paint on raw canvases.

Martin’s canvases reflect a digital world with hard edged forms and color reflective of pop art. Both women share a process that engages immediacy, improvisation and innovation, adds Miller, who says viewers can compare affinities and differences in color palettes and grounds while recognizing the legacy of Frankenthaler in the work of Martin.

“While modern and contemporary abstraction may seem challenging for viewers, this exhibition is powerful and frankly beautiful,” she says. “It seems to me that this is an appropriate exhibition post COVID.”

Visitors with no knowledge of these artists or of modern trends will benefit from a free gallery catalog that includes essays by Shannon Annis, curator of the museum’s collection; Ruth Fine, curator, lecturer and writer formerly with the National Gallery of Art in Washington; and Christian Viveros-Fauné, a New York arts writer and curator-at-large who helped organized the USF show.

“This exhibition is a conversation between rule breakers” in the art world, Viveros-Fauné says. “It’s less about a direct line of influence (of one artist on the other) than a conversation across generations.”

Through her watered-down paint technique, Frankenthaler revolutionized abstract painting and “made lyrical what had previously been very muscular and very male,” he adds. “She classed up the joint a bit. The pour method is hers. Martin worked for DC Comics, and her paintings resemble comic books or stuff you’d seen on a screen.”

The exhibition also offers an aural dimension, when students and faculty from the USF School of Music perform original interpretations of the art with live performances July 7 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the galleries.

The Lyrical Moment: Modern and Contemporary Abstraction by Helen Frankenthaler and Heather Gwen Martin is on display through July 30

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