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Winters Gives Painting a Place in the Sun Again

January 10, 1988|ZAN DUBIN

There were those in the 1970s who claimed that painting, old-fashioned and conservative, could no longer be a convincing art, that compared to more extroverted efforts such as video or performance art it was dead. Terry Winters wasn't one of them.

"Contemporary artists like Winters, Elizabeth Murray and Carroll Dunham are and always were committed to painting," says curator Phyllis Plous. "Indeed, Winters is a part of an international group of artists who are regenerating the life of painting in the 1980s."

Plous, curator at UC Santa Barbara's University Art Museum, has organized a 105-piece exhibition of Winters' paintings and drawings from the past seven years; it opens Tuesday at the seaside institution.

Unrecognizable, mostly organic forms (a eucalyptus leaf or a single, squiggly cell, perhaps?) that "quiver with recognizable energy" populate Winters' works, notes Times art writer Suzanne Muchnic.

"Generally dull in color, raw in surface and certainly not pretty, Winters' work is nonetheless compelling," wrote Muchnic, reviewing a show at the Daniel Weinberg Gallery last June. The 38-year-old New York artist "uses oils and encaustic with such physical gusto and structural logic that the materials seem to have willed themselves into their present format."

Influenced by such artists as Sigmar Polke and Jasper Johns, Winters transforms his organic structures "into what I'd call man-made models and diagrams," notes Plous, "and as he does, the images seem to shift constantly before the viewer's eyes; they expand, contract and transmute. Mutation has a lot to do with the work. It's part of the subject matter.

"The paintings also have a threatening, confrontational look, as well as a cartoon-like outline, though they are not funny. It's also important to note that his conclusions are not neat or conclusive. His paintings and drawings emphasize ambiguity.

"The way he manipulates scale is important too, and how the paint and the image finally merge," adds Plous. "By that I mean that before 1981, Winters' work was so involved with process that material almost meant more than anything else to him. Then he began more and more to work to create work that had content and began to look for ways to do it. A major leap in that direction can be seen in 'Dumb Compass' (1985) and 'Monkey Puzzle,' where you see what I think of as figurative images."

Described by Time magazine art critic Robert Hughes as "one of the truly serious artists of the generation," Winters will deliver a gallery talk Tuesday at 4 p.m. at the museum, where he will also attend a reception, open to the public, in his honor Jan. 16 from 6 to 8 p.m.

The exhibition, supported in part by the Los Angeles-based Lannan Foundation, will travel after its run in Santa Barbara to the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Albert and Vera List Visual Arts Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.

NEW EXHIBIT: The world's major archive for German Expressionist art is housed not in Berlin but in Los Angeles, at the County Museum of Art. Opened earlier this year, the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies admits only students and researchers, but everyone may enjoy its special exhibitions. Thursday, such a show will open, affording viewers the first chance to sample the full wealth of the center's riches.

"Expressionist Visions: Prints, Drawings, and Books From the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies" includes about 150 pieces. It represents the prominence of graphic artists who collaborated with writers, dramatists and critics from major German cities to shape the Expressionist response to the urbanization occurring at the dawn of the 20th Century.

Woodcuts, books of poetry, rare and ephemeral journals and lithographs are among the items on view that demonstrate the essential elements of Expressionism, as practiced by such artists as Emil Nolde, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Pechstein and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Otto Dix and Conrad Felixmuller.

In conjunction with the exhibit, running through March 13, 30 works by Max Beckmann, Kathe Kollwitz, Gabriele Munter and others will be on view in "Expressionist Transitions: Jugendstil, Impressionism, Realism." This show, through March 16, surveys the major trends directly preceding German Expressionism.

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