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Carl Ostendarp: Fat Cakes/Myopic Void

Carl Ostendarp: Fat Cakes/Myopic Void

A 2012 Artforum Critics' Pick (free registration required)

"I’m always amazed by how Carl’s paintings, drawings, and sculpture combine his profound understanding of art, in a totally integrated and natural way, with his appreciation of popular culture. His paintings have the clarity, directness, and power of the best of painting culture, as well as the complexity and humor that results from active engagement with popular culture."

—David Reed, painter, 2003

Fat Cakes/Myopic Void is painter Carl Ostendarp’s third major curatorial project in which he has combined paintings, sculpture, and works on paper from museum collections with his own murals and soundtracks of a wide variety of musical genres and groups.

Ostendarp’s first mural installation took place at the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt in 2007, where he was invited to produce a wall painting as part of an exhibition of German art dealer Rolf Ricke’s collection. In the process of developing his contribution to the show Ostendarp decided to collage photocopied reproductions of works from the museum’s treasured collection of Pop art as though they were hung on top of the mural. To Ostendarp’s surprise, the museum’s director, Udo Kittelmann, instead gave him unlimited access to the collection. The Frankfurt installation was called All Tomorrow’s Parties after the 1967 Velvet Underground recording, which also played in the gallery as an integral part of the installation. In 2009, Ostendarp was invited by the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, to do a similar installation. Pulled Up borrowed its title from the Talking Heads, because two of their members were RISD alumni. Ostendarp’s soundtrack included music by the Talking Heads along with “art school” music by such bands as the Replacements, Sonic Youth, the Pixies, and Pavement. In addition to the wall painting Ostendarp included two of his own signature paintings on canvas.

Ostendarp is best known for paintings characterized by simple biomorphic forms, words, and rich unmodulated color that engage the history of late Modernist art, conflating Pop, Color Field, Minimalism, and cartoons with his own sense of humor. For Fat Cakes/Myopic Void Ostendarp chose works from the Johnson Museum’s collection by such master artists as Andy Warhol, Barnett Newman, Helen Frankenthaler, Mary Heilmann, James Rosenquist, Robert Smithson, and John Chamberlain dating primarily from the 1960s and ’70s. He installed these works adjacent to paintings and works on paper by lesser-known artists, such as Dan Christensen, Richard Lindner, Nicholas Krushenick, and Alex Hay. With an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of painting—particularly the more obscure aspects of modern painting—Ostendarp is able to subtly challenge such long-held curatorial tenets as “standing the test of time” and “the curator’s eye,” supposedly based on schooled intuition to ensure a visually balanced display.

The selected works are displayed in two galleries covered by two-color, drip-pattern murals. Designed by Ostendarp, the murals were painted by him with the assistance of Museum staff and Cornell art department graduate students over a period of seven weeks. Both the individual works from the Museum’s collection and the murals are sited in the galleries based on a mathematical process that Ostendarp derived from the specific measurements of the spaces. The imagery of the murals references dripping paint, with the deliberate choice of juxtaposing colors resulting in a rather unstable viewing position for the visitor. The lines of the mural also allude to landscape vistas and schematic sound waves, emphasized by the soundtracks playing in the galleries.

Ostendarp borrowed the title for this installation from two early 1970s songs by soul-jazz organist Jimmy McGriff and heavy-psych band Captain Beyond, respectively, representing two musical forms that, according to the artist, “mirror developments in the visual arts of this period in that both are concerned with a more physical engagement in the production and reception of their experience.” Music and sound have played a central role in Ostendarp’s work as long as he has been making art. He borrowed song titles for many of his own early paintings. In a recent interview, Ostendarp said, “I like having the song in the mind of the viewer or playing in the space. Somehow music has this quality of keeping us in the present tense, and I hope that this feeling spills over to the viewers’ experience of the visual work.”

Andrea Inselmann
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

This exhibition is funded in part by a grant from the Cornell Council for the Arts.