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Claremont Museum of Art: : Intersecting at the Edge

Three abstract painters converge like an artistic Venn diagram in “Intersecting at the Edge” at the Claremont Museum of Art, where paintings by the late Karl Benjamin, a principal figure of the California Hard-edge painting movement, are displayed alongside abstractions by contemporary artists Heather Gwen Martin and Eric Zammitt. Curated by Dion Johnson, an abstract painter and former student of Benjamin, this show educes singularities and commonalities among its trio of constituent artists while suggesting Hard-edge painting’s enduring legacy.

Four sculptural column paintings—two by Benjamin, two by Zammitt— resemble a miniature stand of skyscrapers inside the museum foyer. While Benjamin’s columns are dark and opaque, Zammitt’s translucent towers are suffused with light like glassy modern high-rises.

Paintings correspond and contrast with one another in various intriguing ways across the main exhibition space. Lively sinusoidal forms in Heather Gwen Martin’s paintings jibe with Benjamin’s wavy shapes in #1 (1992) and Black and Gray Curves with Purple (1960). Zammitt’s mosaics of tiny acrylic blocks, unconventionally definable as acrylic paintings, are analogous to Benjamin’s #8 (1972).

Though Benjamin’s decades-old abstractions appear surprisingly fresh amidst works by the two contemporary artists, Martin and Zammitt’s colors and forms are decidedly more recent. While Benjamin’s muted palette recalls dim mid-century domestic spaces, Martin’s super-saturated hues align more with the vibrant artifice of comics and ads viewed on digital screens. Her undulate linear forms resemble vector graphics.

Zammitt’s mosaics also seem computer-generated. Compared with Benjamin’s larger blocks recalling Rubik’s cubes or other manual games, his multiplicities of tiny blocks, relatively impersonal by virtue of their glued-together modular fabrication, appear pixel-esque.

Both Martin and Zammitt employ geometric abstraction in reflection of our image-saturated, computer-driven contemporary society.  Yet despite their digital appearance, each artist’s paintings are imbued with atmospheric allusions to natural beauty: Zammitt’s Burning Gravity Left (2014) resembles a sunrise or a fire; the green in Martin’s Source Code (2016) evokes a grassy lawn.

Adverting to the temporal trajectory of the Hard-edge movement incited by Benjamin and his contemporaries, this comely exhibition highlights a new vitality for sharp-contoured abstraction in the digital age.

Karl Benjamin, Heather Gwen Martin, and Eric Zammitt, “Intersecting at the Edge,” July 13 – September 16, 2018, at Claremont Museum of Art, 200 W. 1st St., Claremont, CA  91711.

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