WCMA launches a cosmic experience


WILLIAMSTOWN — In simple terms, one might say Williams College Visiting Professor Barbara Takenaga's work is out of this world.

On a more complex level, Takenaga's work calls forth echoes of galaxies, exploding stars and dazzling orbs, which critics have connected to psychedelic experience, the mid-western night sky and Big Bang theory.

In October, Williams College will mount the the first in-depth assessment of Takenaga's work, which spans much of her creative career. The exhibit will include about 60 paintings, made over two decades, that trace the artist's ongoing interest in forms evoking celestial bodies, and will be curated by visiting and independent curator, writer and scholar Debra Bricker Balken.

WCMA Interim Director Lisa Dorin praised both the creative and curatorial work involved in the upcoming exhibition.

"We are delighted that for the next several months, WCMA's two largest galleries will be filled with Barbara's mesmerizing canvases," Dorin said. "Debra Balken has done an extraordinary job of assembling the key works from every phase of the artist's career, and providing visitors to the museum and readers of the exquisite catalogue with a scholarly context for these truly awe-inspiring paintings."

At once abstract and passionately decorative, Takenaga's painting has always flourished on the notion of paradox.

Joining aspects of Japanese printmaking and Tantric painting, as well as modernist progression such as op art, her work is widely considered by critics to have enriched the languages of abstraction, by forging new aesthetic territory that is still thought of as either decoration or illustration.

Balken said that she has known Takenaga's art for more than 20 years and has followed it with great enthusiasm.

"Barbara's work has existed at the forefront of contemporary abstraction for the past decade or so," Balken said. "Through her intricate patterns of dots, she has produced paintings that are both uplifting and transcendent, as well as wacky and whimsical. There is great aesthetic pleasure to be had from her work."

That pleasure will give exhibition visitors a considerable takeaway. The show, which will run through Jan. 28, 2018, will be accompanied by a 144-page, fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by Balken, a brief consideration of Takenaga's career by novelist Jim Shepard and a poem by Geoffrey Young.

Balken noted that one of the special aspects of curating this particular show at WCMA was the face-to-face contact she was able to have with Takenaga, given the latter's role teaching at Williams.

"Developing the checklist with Barbara was very much a collaboration and grew out of our extensive conversations that focused on the conceptual thrust of her work, and its ongoing permutations," Balken said.

Takenaga's recent solo exhibitions include a wall project at Mass MoCA, SPACE 42 of the Neuberger Museum, and DC Moore Gallery in New York, which represents her work.

Her paintings are in the collections of the DeCordova Museum, Henry Art Gallery, Crocker Art Museum, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, San Jose Museum and Williams College Museum of Art, among others. She is also represented by Gregory Lind Gallery and Shark's Ink.

Balken also explained that she didn't have a personal favorite of Takenaga's work in the exhibition.

"Every painting was very carefully considered, with an eye not only to its formal resolution, but to the overall installation," Balken said. "While I have been drawn to each phase of Barbara's work in the past two decades, I continue to be astonished by its rapturous beauty, which has been amplified by the increased size of her work in the past few years."

Given that the exhibition will attract art aficionados and scholars, as well as casual admirers of art and the lay public, Balken concluded by expressing her desire for its audience.

"I hope they respond to the sheer aesthetic uplift of Barbara's work, which is achieved through her deft proliferation of formal devices, such as the dot, and their cosmological overtones and references," she said.

"Barbara Takenaga" will run from Oct. 5 to Jan. 28, 2018. For more information, contact the museum at 413-597-2429 or wcma.williams.edu

Reach award-winning freelance journalist Telly Halkias at tchalkias@aol.com, Twitter: @Telly Halkias

Related programs ...

- "Season Celebration," Thursday, Oct. 5, 5 p.m.

"Barbara Takenaga," "Pink Art," "The Presence of Absence," and "Object Lab." Hear from guest curator Debra Bricker Balken and artist Barbara Takenaga, followed by mini tours in the galleries.

- "Close Look," Tuesday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m.

Artists Barbara Takenaga and Tom Burckhardt discuss abstraction, painting, and geometry.


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