Lovely green Loch Haven Park, with its suburban sense of place, seems so relatable, so friendly. When the Orlando Museum of Art decamps for downtown, sometime in the indeterminate future decade, one hopes this accessibility is somehow portable. Inside, the museum connects viewers to the contemporary art scene like few other local institutions, and the seeker is, this fall, rewarded with two stellar shows. MetaModern explores the world of design since the 1950s, while Harold Garde gives us a beautiful and accessible experience from the same period. He reminds us that abstract expressionism isn't all stern minimalism, but can be, rather, a rich and colorful interior experiment.
Artists and inventors share the same gene pool. Garde's "Strappo" technique reinvented printmaking by adapting its process to painting and canvas: lifting painting off one surface (glass) onto another surface for viewing. Strappo's look is unique, emblematic of the flatness so coveted by abstract expressionists. A wall of these paintings greets viewers as they enter the first of the Lockheed Martin galleries, each one a study in line and composition as intense and fresh as the larger canvases surrounding them.
OMA drew from Garde's recent work, which explores the figure in such pieces as "Big Band Jazz" – eerie because it's so recent the paint's probably still wet, but so retro in its subject matter. A whorl structure, its center defined in the lower right by a small spiral, is populated by repeating figures of black, red and apple-green, seeming to throw off gases of yellow and orange. It is a beautiful expression of a moment of music, set floating in a cyanic field.
Garde's midcentury work, after he graduated from Columbia University, populates the other gallery devoted to this exhibit. Here, amongst a variety of styles, he can be seen finding his voice and making references to Picasso and Matisse, among others. "Urban Autumn," from 1959, animates the canvas with a mature look. It is a nod to Picasso, with a cubist figure in the center painted in a meaty cadmium orange. Yet it is wholly his own, an early structure of black gestural lines originating in the canvas but leaving it, anchoring the image as so many of his works do with hidden rigor.
Born in 1923, the artist splits his time between New Smyrna Beach and Maine. His signature is the beauty that abstraction can have, and he delivers the idea that interior experience can be expressed to others. Neither vision is easy, which is why this show should be seen. "We do these things," said one noted president of the American midcentury, "not because they are easy, but because they are hard." It is well to remember that statement, and look at what Garde has accomplished in his career.
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