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Visually Conversing at the Fisher Landau Center for Art

By Adèle Bossard

Fisher Landau Center For Art, exterior view. Photo: Hermann Feldhaus

"Visual Conversations: Selection from the Collection"
On view September 28 - November 30, 2012
The Fisher Landau Center For Art
38-27 30th Street, Long Island City
Open to the public, free admission, Thursday through Monday, 12 to 5 pm.

As I was leaving the subway and setting foot on Long Island City for the first time, I discovered a particularly cosmopolitan neighborhood I had only been told about. There I found the Fisher Landau Center for Art almost hidden a few blocks away on a residential street. Housed in a former parachute harness factory, the gallery is organized in three large floors, all devoted to the exhibition of Emily Fisher Landau's contemporary art collection, hosting some 1,500 works. In May 2010, Emily Fisher Landau made an historic pledge of 417 works of art by nearly 100 artists to the Whitney Museum of American Art, giving birth to "LEGACY, The Emily Fisher Landau Collection," a traveling exhibition organized by the Whitney Museum.

The current exhibition, "Visual Conversations," is composed of a selection of this unique gift and highlights numerous artists Ms. Landau has been collecting in depth. With different works for each artist, it opens a dialogue among them and brings together various stages of their creative process. The "visual conversation" can exist as a time line between various artworks by the same artist, brought together for the first time, or between different artists, echoing each other.

This idea of a visual conversation is not obvious on the first floor, where figures of human beings are crouching, looking at their feet, sleeping, or otherwise rejecting conversation. But the visual conversation is of another nature. It can be found when the usual means of communication do not exist. It is precisely when you can't talk or when you can't see someone face-to-face that the conversation may become visual. Thus, the exhibition becomes a collection of all the ways to express feelings without using the power of speech. For example, Vera Lutter's photo of a Pepsi Cola advertising billboard on the East River illustrates one of the visual conversation between a brand and its potential customers. Edward Mapplethorpe's portrait of Michael Anthony Fisher conveys all the expression of a baby's face and the feelings of someone who cannot talk. With this image juxtaposed with "Cerise" by Richard Artschwager, a sculpture displaying images of a baby in a high chair, there appears a subliminal dialogue between two young children.

Pepsi Cola, Long Island City, VIII, June 24, 1998" by Vera Lutter, 1998. Photo by Adele Bossard. "Cerise" by Richard Artschwager, 2002 and "Michael Anthony Fisher" by Edward Mapplethorpe, 2011. Photo by Adele Bossard.

A major part of this exhibition allows conversations between artists of the same period, presenting face-to-face different contemporary pieces of art. The artists confront each other and it makes the comparison much easier. Even simpler, it brings together several pieces from the same artist that are usually not exhibited in the same place, making a chronological comparison clearer.

Jasper Johns, "Flags I," 1973. Color screenprint, 27 1/2 x 35 inches. Jasper Johns, "Flags II," 1973. Screenprint, 27 1/2 x 35 inches. Jasper Johns, "Flags," 1986. Oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 33 inches.

This comparison is exemplified here observing Jasper Johns' flags ("Flags," "Flags I," "Flags II"), each one representing two vertical American flags stuck together. The two screenprints that are dated from 1973 ("Flags I" and "Flags II") present damaged American flags. If it is not obvious with the first one ("Flags I"), that it is just a little dark with some stripes damaged, it really is obvious on “Flags II,” in which the flags are drowned in a dark and gray composition. Knowing that these paintings were done in 1973, it is difficult to ignore that it coincides with a dark part of the American recent history, the Vietnam period. The contrast is however glaring with the oil on canvas “Flags,” with its bright colors and clear stripes. Painted in 1986, this painting seems to reflect another period of the American history, more flourishing than the last one. The "visual conversation" that allows the gathering of those three similar paintings reveals the changing optimism of the American people at different times in modern history.

Adèle Bossard is a free lance writer from Saumur, France.



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