Art isn’t singular—it’s not created in a vacuum. Much of the time, an artist’s influence emerges from other art forms. Take the modernists prints in “The Eye Learns,” currently on exhibit at Cameron Art Museum (CAM). 134 prints by 54 artists, from postwar modernism to post-modernism, will be on display through April 26, 2020, as gifted by San Francisco art collector Louis Belden. When CAM staff were planning the roster of events surrounding the exhibit, public programs curator Daphne Holmes looked no further than Luc Travers, who helps with museum interpretation. Travers suggested combining art history with art appreciation to heighten the viewer experience.
“The development of modernist art has been strongly influenced by music,” he says. “Many artists tried to recreate the instantaneous emotional impact of music in their artworks. They had an interest in the theory of synesthesia—the idea that the senses are connected, e.g. images are associated with sounds, colors with tones, lines with rhythm, etc.”
Artwork on display in “The Eye Learns” come from the likes of Georges Braque, Alexander Calder, Sonia Delaunay and Josef Albers and others. To connect with the audience, CAM has utilized sound during the exhibit’s visual journey to help curtail intimidation. “Often, abstract-modernist works can be challenging to experience,” Travers admits. With the help of Holmes, the museum reached out to 17 local music professionals and asked them to choose five works to pair with their own musical suggestions.
“By using phones and the music icon in ‘The Eye Learns,’ CAM visitors can hear a sampling of the music selected, providing an added dimension and way to experience the art on view,” Holmes explains.
As one of three gallery talks scheduled during the exhibit, the January 30 event, “The Eye Learns’ and Hears Music,” will allow visitors a chance to talk with and ask questions of the music contributors from the Wilmington area.
“Some are musicians, some teach music, some are lifelong music aficionados, which also makes them neighbors, co-workers and friends,” Holmes tells. “It will hopefully inspire visitors to think of what music they would choose for works of art, not only in ‘The Eye Learns’ but as they look at all the exhibitions on view.”
Primus Robinson, president of the Cape Fear Jazz Society—which hosts concerts at CAM every first Thursday evening of the month—chose Gerhard Richter’s “ABSTRAKTESBILD” to pair with Miles Davis’ “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” from the famed album “Bitches Brew.” Its warmth, complexity and subtlety of color drew in Robinson, first and foremost.
“It can evoke thoughts of several dimensions,” he describes, “be they the microcosm or the macrocosm. It moves me emotionally, more than some of his other abstract ‘bild’ works.”
Robinson equates the same depth and elaboration in the jazz music of Davis. “[It starts] with a rhythm that builds into a complex polyrhythmic weave—the gifting of ‘little surprises,’” he continues.
Another local known for her mark on jazz since the ‘90s, Nina Repeta—singer of the Nina Repeta Trio—chose two pieces: “Mother and Little Boy” by Karl Appel and “Flashback” by Judy Chicago. A parent to an 11-year-old-boy, Repeta was drawn to “Mother and Little Boy” because of its bright colors and faces. She chose John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” to talk about the piece.
“As a mother, you are joined with your child but not always connected,” Repeta says. “They share the same blood, but they see differently, with different eyes. The boy in the painting is free to go. He is beautiful.”
She also chose Donovan’s “Love is Hot” to talk about “Flashback,” as its geometric movement impacted her. “It hit me like a strobe light,” she says. “This piece invokes warning but draws me in like a dangerous lover that I must succumb to.”
The simplicity of Wayne Thiebaud’s 1970 painting “The Sandwich” drew in local performer and therapeutic musician Susan Savia, who teaches early childhood music through Happy Little Singers. Done in a gouache style (like watercolor), the piece consists of stacked, white square sandwiches. Colors pop from blue crusts and toothpicked olives, with a square blue shadow cast around the white plate.
“It is stark, yet animated and inviting,” Savia details. “Every sandwich is a work of art. This one is waiting, the olives enticing you to focus on the mouthwatering meal to be eaten and enjoyed. It immediately reminded me of Warren Zevon, who advised us to ‘enjoy every sandwich’ [on ‘Late Show with David Letterman,’ which also inspired the 2004 tribute album ‘Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon’]. It made the piece even more poignant.”
From pop-folk to pop-art, the 1960s famed comic artist Roy Lichtenstein’s “Sunrise” will be discussed by performing artist Luis Adorno. “[I’m also a] curator, working with a wide variety of visual and musical artists locally and throughout the country,” Adorno says. “My work tries to break barriers between ‘high art’ and DIY spaces, with no regard to genre or convention.” “Sunrise” appealed to him because of how Lichtenstein deconstructs clichéd topics.
“His iconic pop-art style, paired with the upbeat funk/soul track, ‘We Are The Sun’ by SAULT, presents a feeling of new days, hopefulness, growth, social and spiritual consciousness, and overcoming adversity,” Adorno explains.
“The Eye Learns” will become part of CAM’s permanent collection after the exhibition closes this spring. The prints are displayed in the order in which Belden attained them over the course of his lifetime (he passed in 2017). It begins with the 1971 acquisition of “Art Beat” by silk-screen artist Nobu Fukui and ends with works by Richard Diebenkorn, Jasper Johns, and Ellsworth Kelly.
“Seeing the evolution and growth of styles and tones throughout time and during artists’ careers is fascinating,” Savia tells.
“All art is important,” Repeta adds. “Art transports us. It is crucial expression for humanity; even though we find art in nature, we as humans have the ability to intentionally create art of all kinds: visual, musical, theatrical.”