Work of Regionalists and contemporary regional artists in contrast at Kiechel Fine Art
There’s no overarching thesis behind Kiechel Fine Arts’ deceptively titled “American Regionalist Movement.” That is likely what makes the show of works from the gallery’s holdings both interesting and notable.
The titular deception comes because the exhibition includes work by contemporary artists working in the region alongside the “regionalists” who gave the 1930s-rooted movement its name.
That creates a compare and contrast that is enlightening to say the least showing, to some measure, that regionalism is a style of the past while contemporary looks at the mid-continent land are now more complex and idea-driven.
The obvious difference between the work of Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry and Grant Wood and the contemporary artists is that the regionalists often worked figurative — depicting, to pick a couple examples, a graduation in Wood’s lithograph “Honorary Degree” and Curry’s famous image of “John Brown.”
The contemporary artists — Keith Jacobshagen, Hal Holoun, Ernest Ochsner —work in landscape alone, add unrelated elements like the flowers in the sky of Jenny Kruger’s “Procession” and the flying geometric shapes of Aaron Holz’s “Pine Ridge (Wounded Knee South)” or, in the case of Dan Howard’s “Ski Trail/Jackson Hole” completely abstract the form.
That differentiation even holds true with two three-dimensional pieces in the show — Roger Madearis’ painted bronze sculpture of a bunch of dancing “The Flower Children” from 1969 and Eddie Dominguez’s swirling, deeply ceramic depiction of a “Storm.”
The exhibition, which contains work by lesser known regionalists, like Benton’s Kansas City Art Institute student John S. de Martelly, also shows, perhaps inadvertently continued into the 1980s.
But, save for Benton’s grandson Anthony Benton Gude, regionalism clearly had little influence on the contemporary artists, some of whom find inspiration from the work of another Benton student — Jackson Pollock.
If nothing else, the exhibition, which will be on view through early April, provides an opportunity to see work by the regionalists outside a museum while showcases some of today’s top regional artists.