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In the last decade, growing numbers of international artists working in various mediums have embarked for the further shores of fantasy. The Joslyn Art Museum special exhibition Fabulism concentrates on the work of five painters -- Carroll Dunham, Ellen Gallagher, Chris Ofili, Neo Rauch, and Matthew Ritchie -- who are at the forefront of those exploring myth, allegory, and fable as a means of comprehending the complexities of human nature. Organized by Joslyn Art Museum, the exhibition opens at the Museum on January 31 and continues through April 25, 2004. (right: Matthew Ritchie, Anti-City, 2000, oil and marker on canvas, 84 x 126 inches, The Speyer Family Collection, New York, on view in the special exhibition Fabulism, January 31 ­ April 25, 2004, Joslyn Art Museum)

The creations of the five featured artists, who are among the most incisive of imagination's new explorers, are influenced more by Cosmicomics (Italo Calvino's fables of the universe) than by Disneyesque cartoons; by invention rather than appropriation of mass media; and by activities that transform rather than transgress -- all with a healthy dollop of shock and wonder. Not since the psychovisual excesses of Surrealism, as well as the more recent exaggerated characters in the art of Philip Guston and Peter Saul, have we been confronted with such ravishing strangeness and iconographic complexity. They do not share a unified visual and intellectual front, but create within the broad range of viewpoints voiced within contemporary art. Their individual influences range from scientific treatises to Mayan glyphs to hip hop music, to name but a few; and their works range from the schematic painterliness and intricate narrative of Ritchie's mythic cosmology to the over-the-top craftlike decorativeness of Ofili's icons of Afrocentric spirits.

Common themes and influences exist within this diversity and are explored in the exhibition. Both Dunham and Gallagher, for instance, share an interest in infusing narrative into the geometric rigors of 1960s Minimalism; in turn, Dunham shares in and has, to some degree, influenced the visual outcome of Ritchie's apocalyptic tales. And Gallagher has a common interest with Ofili in converting racial and/or racist clichés into Afrovalidation. The hypnotic performers of nonsensical tasks who are found in Rauch's canvases are drawn, in part, from the socialist realism of the former East Germany, but the odd stillness of space and sense of alienation within his paintings is also akin to that found in Dunham's most recent fragmented figuration. Seen together, all five painters rearticulate painting's age-old claim to the meaning and magic of wonder.

Joslyn Art Museum has produced a fully-illustrated color catalogue in conjunction with the exhibition that features works by all five artists represented in Fabulism, including some pieces not included in the show. The essay "Brushes with Gods, Devils, Demons, Monsters, the Milky Way, and Planck's Constant" by exhibition curator and Joslyn's adjunct curator of contemporary art, Klaus Kertess, is also included. 

Contemporary Art Society Private Viewing:

For its members, Joslyn's Contemporary Art Society (CAS) will sponsor a private viewing of Fabulismon Saturday, January 31 at 5 pm. Artists Carroll Dunham and Matthew Ritchie will be on hand to welcome members to the exhibition. CAS members are then welcome to stay for the Members Opening program beginning at 6:30 pm (see below).

Members Opening:

The evening of Saturday, January 31, Joslyn will host a Members Opening celebrating Fabulism, opening to the public that day. The event begins at 6:30 pm with a slide-illustrated lecture in the Museum's concert hall by two of the exhibition's five featured artists, Carroll Dunham and Matthew Ritchie. The painters will speak about their work -- Dunham's, an unlikely union with Surrealist automatism and dream imagery; Ritchie's, a multimedia enterprise, perhaps more installation than painting, that draws on science, religion, alchemy, myth, and popular culture. The hour-long lecture will be followed by exhibition viewing from 7:30-9:30 pm.

Fabulism is made possible in part by the Rose Blumkin Foundation and Joan Gibson and Donald Wurster


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