IMAGE ABOVE: Susan Chrysler White, Cradle, 2010–13. Acrylic on canvas, 77 x 110 in. Courtesy of the artist and Littlejohn Contemporary, New York.

While beauty may be one attribute of a work of art, it is rare nowadays to see that word in a critical context. And yet, at the McNay Museum of Art, curator René Paul Barilleaux has organized a 13-person group exhibition around the topic. In Beauty Reigns: A Baroque Sensibility in Recent Painting, Barilleaux brings together artists from across the United States who are working with ideas of high color, layering of surface imagery, stylized motifs, and repeated patterns. Pulling ideas that first surfaced from the Baroque period in the 1600s, the exhibition includes paintings, wall works, sculpture, video, and installation.

Patterns and washes of bright color pop out as one walks through the galleries. The kaleidoscopic imagery of Ryan McGinnis, Jose Alvarez and Beatriz Milhazes enlist décor, floral motifs, and candy-colored shapes that reference almost psychedelic fleur-de-lis patterning. These vary from the more geometrically-minded abstract works by Fausto Fernandez and Susan Chrysler White. Fernandez’s paintings stand out halfway through the exhibition—showcasing a process that includes working with blueprints, sewing patterns, and maps to create dynamic compositions of layered mark making.

In the more graphically-inclined works by Kamrooz Iram and Charles Burwell, there is less over-the-top layering and embellishment. Iram work references the decorative history and patterning of ornamental carpets and floor works of his native Iran; however, instead of copying them verbatim, he focuses on details and abstracts the backgrounds. These works collide with the gestural and more abstract expressionist elements created by Nancy Lorenz and Rosalyn Schwartz.

That is, they might if the exhibition design didn’t limit the dialogue between different artists’ works that could occur were they intermingled (and in larger galleries). While each artist has contributed a fair amount of work to the show, some pieces are very similar to each other. Breaking these similar works up by juxtaposing them with another artist’s work would create a more engaging dialogue—one suggested by the design of the exhibition catalogue.

A standout from the group is New York-based artist Nancy Lorenz, who closes the show with a bang. Her installation of 26 small, untitled works along with two larger paintings—Gold Sea with Cloud and Lemon Gold, Silver Sulphur—allows the viewer to understand the varied materials Lorenz works with, including cardboard, burlap, mother-of-pearl, and gold and silver leaf. The small works are intimate, and the marks are organic. And while other works in the show exude precision, Lorenz’s paintings exude passion. One small work is corrugated cardboard the artist scratched into, almost feral in the gesture, and then covered in gold. The dimensionality and diverse surfaces of Lorenz’s gilded abstraction leads directly back to Baroque, particularly the Rococo movement of the late Baroque period. In these works, beauty truly reigns.


Beauty Reigns: A Baroque Sensibility in Recent Painting
McNay Art Museum
Through Aug. 17