"The Spiritual Landscapes of Adrienne Farb, 1980-2006" Cantor Art Gallery, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts

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"The Spiritual Landscapes of Adrienne Farb, 1980-2006" Cantor Art Gallery, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts. August 30, 200-December 16, 2006

After a century in which it was first hailed as the art of the future, then as the triumph of postwar American painting, and ultimately challenged and reduced to one possibility amid many, what is the state of abstract art today? Frank Stella, once modernism's golden boy, turned himself into an aesthetic contortionist decades ago, trying to escape the dead end into which he'd painted himself. Even earlier, Philip Guston provided the prescient example for many younger artists with his move back to representation. Beyond painting, the rise of Conceptual art and related practices tells a story far too familiar to need rehearsing here: as the critic Lane Relyea has written, "sometime between the '60s and the '80s, discourse replaced painting as the dominant medium in the art world."

So the short answer to the question seems to be: "not good." Yet many painters continue to work abstractly with success, and the exhibition "The Spiritual Landscapes of Adrienne Farb, 1980-2006" at the College of the Holy Cross offers a survey of just such a one. The Chicago-born Adrienne Farb, who returned to her native land in 2001 after more than two decades in Paris and (briefly) London, has spent her career painting abstractly, creating over the decades a body of work remarkable for its compositional fluidity and surprising color. The exhibition shows Farb's development since her days as a young artist learning how to paint in the parks and museums of France, and provides a view of an abstract artist continuing to work without compromise or apology.

With an undergraduate education in art history, and not art making, Farb began her career by doing what she knew how to do--look closely--and let that guide her hand. Her earliest efforts show flatly painted landscapes and still fifes in muted color, patient attempts at getting something set on canvas. The exhibition also features a number of Farb's sketchbooks, in which the trees and pools of the Luxembourg Gardens are reduced to elements of color and shape--efforts that would inform her practice, though they've never served as compositional studies per se. By 1986, Farb developed what became her compositional mainstay: intuitively built vertically oriented bands that create complex relationships of color and shape in flat, or very shallow, space. The bands' origins lie in her experience of looking at and drawing the urban landscapes in which she worked, but without maintaining a resemblance, as in the paintings of Joan Mitchell, to actual environments. These "spiritual landscapes" are fully abstract, a distillation of past looking into paint. …