Walter Darby Bannard - Then and Now
Post #1424 • November 30, 2009, 7:39 AM • 33 Comments
Art Basel Miami Beach is nigh. I will be covering it for the New Criterion. A happy saunter through the Miami fair season requires triage of most of the opportunities to view art or otherwise divert oneself. The point of diminishing returns can arrive early. I dedicate most of my existence to art in one form or another, and even I have come out of the first week of December never wanting to look at it again. (The feeling passes. Hard exercise seems to help.)
So having a hit list is crucial. Mine is incomplete but it includes the official ABMB press reception on Wednesday, the reception for Miami's Independent Thinkers on Thursday (largely to see the multitalented Nicole Soden), and the beer and barbecue, frat-house style reception for Walter Darby Bannard at the Center for Visual Communications on Saturday. This last item promises the best art in town, and I'm not just saying that because I wrote the catalogue essay below.
For this exhibition Darby lined up 20 years' worth of painting - they were all prolific years - and determined that the work of the first few and the relatively recent were the most interesting. This kind of tough decision demands an objective reflection that few artists can claim. Darby saw that a certain kind of paint editing that he had used in the earlier work might make a more interesting foreground if slightly figurative. The fruits of the consummate application of this idea adorn these walls, and adorn them magnificently.
Ideas come in the studio one after another, and most of them turn out to be duds. It is like having a thick ring of keys; they all look the same, but only one unlocks the door. You try one after another, then suddenly, whoosh - a whole new vista opens up, and you work like a demon to capitalize on it. These recent paintings are great art, no less so for looking madcap, even circus-like. They are at once childlike and fully formed in a manner suiting the output of a master.
I had Darby as a teacher in graduate school at the University of Miami shortly after he came there from New York City in 1989. Chief among the many lessons I learned from him is the supreme importance of going to the studio day after day.
This sounds banal, perhaps, but by doing so for decades one can outlast the vagaries of the art world. Darby was an abstract painter during a time when the best American art was abstract. He exhibited widely and often, making original contributions to art through an unsurpassable dedication to making his art better and better, but fled a New York art world that by the late '80s had lost a sense of reality and was losing its appetite for serious modernist work. New York continues to drown in inanities, but it has grown large enough, and in some cases mature enough, to begin to recognize the triumph that his art represents, and he is now showing there successfully again.
An exhibition surveying Darby's work, his students' work, and his students' students' work is an imperative for Miami. Such a show would include a wide range of styles and media of uniformly high quality and a healthy immunity to artistic fashion. Miami needs this.
I've asked Darby to provide the times and address for the opening reception in the comments.
Elsewhere, I hear that the Robert Thiele career review at my erstwhile Miami gallery looks stunning. My San Diego gallery will be at Art Miami, which previews Tuesday night. All of you who plan to partake - what would you add?