Is the above picture an interior to an exterior space? Or a slice of Wonder Bread before it’s popped in the toaster?
Is it a sagging parallelogram or a pair of yellow underpants viewed from, er, behind?
How you view it, images like that one put a smile on your face. That’s the point of a charming new exhibition that explores the humor in abstraction.
The show, called Punchline and curated by Kevin Daly, features the works of 13 artists. The playful and colorful works light up the Institute Library’s third-floor gallery (at 847 Chapel St.) without your knowing quite why.
That lack of intention on the part of the artist is half the fun, and half the reason Daly chose the works.
It may be that we’re just hard-wired in the brain to smile at an up-curving line that looks, well, like a smile; to frown at a curving line in the opposite direction; but to look at a dot on a canvas and say, simply, “Huh!”
The show doesn’t try to explore the perceptual or metaphysical why of such responses. It’s aim is just show the evidence of the sunny side of abstraction along with in many instances the process by which the artist put together the objects de whimsey.
So if you’re in a Moby Dick mood and it’s a dark drizzly pre-Thankgiving November day in your soul, you could do a lot worse than to stroll by the Institute Library to catch “Punchline,” which runs through Nov. 27 during regular library hours.
Many schools of abstraction are critical, ironical, or mathematical, said Daly. “The work here is whimsical or playful.” That doesn’t mean it’s any less serious than, say, a Mark Rothko, he argued.
He offered, for example, the pointy and orderly system of colored carets in the Stephen Westfall composition pictured above: “That’s a system that could be in a show about math, but it’s playful.”
The sense of color contributes to the lightness as well as the lack of evidence that the artist wanted to explore space, depth, or perceptual issues. He simply left the middle of the painting blank.
The whimsy of intention is at the heart of Taro Suzuki’s “Untitled” (pictured). The New York-based artist was working on the single acrylic on a canvas geometric panel [to the left in the photo] when his studio’s landlady opened her door, revealing the Yves Klein blue throw rug at her threshold.
“I’ve got to have one,” he recollected thinking.
When she told him they were on sale at the dollar store, he went down and bought one. The length was precisely the size of the panel. He had also recently seen Get Him to the Greek, a silly comedy film that contains the line, “Stroke the fur on the wall.”
Thus a diptych was born.
Inna Babaeva’s “The Space Between” (pictured) was playful not only in spirit and theory, but in physical reality. Her yellow rubber balls on springs attracted the touch little kids as well as adults at the show’s opening Saturday. The balls bounce off; you retrieve and replace them. No problem.
Daly said that Babaeva has a whole field of these pieces, at least ten. He said he restricted the number to four so they wouldn’t take over the whole room.
“I’m not making a big philosophical statement,” Daly said. “These people are my peers. I’m inspired by them. They are working in abstraction for the fun of it. They’re trying to elicit the joy of looking.”
Daly said he hopes the show will be enough of a hit that he can augment it with new pieces and bring it to a nearby museum.
Should that happen, and if a catalog accompanies the show, he will write an essay to explore why you smile at the upcurving line.
The Institute Library’s curator-in-residence Stephen Kobasa selected Daly to curate the show. He appeared previously, as an artist, in “Making Room,” a show curated by Suzan Shutan at the library in October 2012.
Other artists also exhibiting in Punchline include: Andrew small; Sue Post; Roland Orepuk; Richard Roth; Grant Wiggins; Insook Hwang; and Andy Cunningham.