What's the BIG Idea? A Visit to Two Museums

What’s the BIG Idea? A Visit to Two Museums

by Sue Katz and Donna Hamil Talman

Art is all about us, the viewer, our experience and identity!
The new 2100 Century paradigm about meaning in art and the experience of art:

Irving Sandler on Robert Morris “Sculpture Notes”
     “The viewer became an important component of the work.” 
Robert Irwin
     “The viewer becomes the figurative element in a work of art. The individual is the                        focus.” 
Lawrence Weschler on Robert Irwin
     “Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees” 
     “Art existed not in objects but in a way of seeing.” 
Richard Serra 
     “The spectator becomes part of the piece…the observer is the subject of his own                      experience.” 
James Turrel “My art is about your seeing.” 

A brief outline about identity according to moi (Sue Katz).

IDENTITY of the Viewer • Context Becomes Content
     • RACE
     • GENDER
     • CLASS
– age: young or old                                                                        
        – education: professional career vs manual labor  
        – political/economic status: liberal vs conservative, rich vs poor  
        – technology & communication, digital/social media: smart phone, tv, computer
           going going almost gone – newspaper, books, radio
        – geography: north vs south or east vs west, urban vs rural,
            politically correct vs “redneck”     

Here is my identity. You write out yours!

My identity is that I am a white woman, a widow with two grown children and two grandchildren. I am an artist and a graphic designer, once a potter. I was influenced by Abstract Expressionism primarily in the 60s.

More specifically, I went to see MASS MoCA, after going to the Clark Art Institute in the morning, knowing that I would have to pick and choose just what work to spend time with and simply disregard the work that did not appeal to me, that I did not find esthetically appealing. I used to teach my art students at a state university in New Jersey this lesson when assigning them to go to MoMA in New York City.                                                                                                                                                                            Sue Katz

My identity is quite similar to Sue’s: white wife and mother, an artist, a psychotherapist, once an experimental photographer, and also strongly influenced by abstract expressionism.

                                                                                         Donna Hamil Talman

Frankenthaler, Off White Square


I found the Helen Frankenthaler work uneven as I always have though her best work is absolutely wonderful. Her Off White Square was fabulous! Note primary colors and balance, use of line, pour and stain, landscape style, and size (6.5′ x 21′)  – all typically Frankenthaler. How did Frankenthaler work so large?  Canvases were unframed on the floor, with pouring, layering, line brush work, reaching and stretching – very active and physical like Pollock.  
Sue Katz                    

Seventeen Frankenthaler woodcuts were displayed in another section of the Clark. This Essence Mulberry is my favorite, though atypically small and very “Rothko-like” – the bottom part is plain paper (maybe mulberry?). She used up to 46 wood blocks to attain 102 colors with help of assistants – process centered versus a predetermined conceptual basis.  
Sue Katz                                          

As I viewed As In Nature, Helen Frankenthaler paintings, I considered Sue’s comments above. The aspects of my identity at the forefront when viewing Frankenthaler’s art were that of artist, woman, and psychotherapist.  As my own art becomes more abstract, I am drawn to other’s abstraction, and color always gets my attention first. At first glance the colors in Frankenthaler’s woodcuts, , seemed washed out, but the longer I gazed, the more I found them soft… but rich. They are what I most remember from several hours of viewing art that day.  

I would not have known these were woodcuts without label information. A question kept coming to mind:  why wood block? I then remembered that Frankenthaler is described as ever innovative, that she particularly loved prints, and I imagine working with a Japanese master artist was compelling. 

As Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter’s daughter, she likely had more confidence than other women of her era, but since she was recognized nationally almost immediately after college and the affirmation continued, it was clearly her talent and hard work that took her forward.
Donna Hamil Talman










left and right by Dawn DeDeaux

below, Broken But Still Strong, by Lonnie Holley


Art out of trash was a strange but appealing approach. He broke rules and, having been raised to follow rules, his work encouraged me to break rules too.    In this exhibition his art was imprinted on glass or plastic, completely removing the key element of texture. The art still had appeal but was much less potent.                                                                                          Donna Hamil Talman

In a big big room next to the Rauschenberg space Dawn DeDeaux and Lonnie Holley, “two phoenixes rising from the ashes” who attend Rauschenber’s residence program in Captiva, FL, were both born in 1950 in the South, a white woman and a Black man. I loved loved loved their assemblages and installations using found and made objects – the nitty gritty stuff of life.

Finally we found Turrell on a floor below. I saw his work in 2004 in Japan at the new Chichu Art Museum. MASS MoCA displays several different periods of his work, all well worth seeing. His art makes you see in a very special way, unlike any other art I know.

We missed a newly opened building with Anselm Kiefer; it was raining too hard and we were exhausted. We only had a half day there but a full day is better if you’ve got the stamina!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Sue Katz