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The Four Seasons Baltimore

The Four Seasons Baltimore has opened with the city’s largest hotel art collection. The collection, assembled by Mark Myers of Atlantic Arts, includes museum-quality pieces informed by the Washington Color School. “The credit really has to go to the owners, Michael Beatty and his team at Harbor East Development, for having the vision to provide a first quality collection in a commercial setting. They were very specific with what they wanted to achieve with this collection,” according to Myers. Acknowledging the influencers and the influenced, the collection was assembled considering antecedents and derivatives of the Color School movement. In a gallery ambience, visitors can view the art, which includes works from well-known artists such as Gene Davis, Sam Francis, Paul Jenkins, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Sam Gilliam, Larry Poons, Ronald Davis, Larry Zox, and Frank Stella. The collection also includes pieces from renowned contemporary artists, including Susie Lee, Craig Kaft, Lisa Nankivil, and Baltimore-based Karl Connolly .
“Suite 16” Richard Anuszkiewicz (American, b. 1930) The large Anuszkiewicz works in the lobby are the set of four dramatic optical art prints from 1977 titled “Suite 16”. Anuszkiewicz, one of the founders of Optical Art, a late 1960s and early 1970s art movement, was hailed by Life magazine in 1964 as “one of the new wizards of Op,” and his work was later described by the New York Times: “The drama — and that feels like the right word — is in the subtle chemistry of complementary colors, which makes the geometry glow as if light were leaking out from behind it.”
“Quarterdeck” “Moby Dick” “Ahab’s Leg” “The Hyena” Frank Stella (American, b. 1936) Frank Stella’s vivid, abstract, sizeable works are from his “Waves” series, which Stella sees as central to his later career. Inspired by Moby Dick, the four matched AP 1989 pieces, “Quarterdeck” “Moby Dick” “Ahab’s Leg” and “The Hyena”, are multi-media prints, combining such diverse media as silkscreen, lithography, linoleum block, hand-coloring, marbling, and collage on paper, with up to 20-30 processes used on each work. Stella, who is considered significant within the art movements of Minimalism and Post-Painterly Abstraction, was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama in 2009.
“John Barley Corn” “Jack-in-the-Box” and “Battle for Grown Ups” Gene Davis (American, b. 1920 d. 1985) Gene Davis, an original member of the Washington Color School, was known especially for his works of vertical stripes of color. His 1969 pieces behind the concierge desk, “Jack in the Box” “John Barley Corn” and “Battle for Grown Ups”, are typical of his style of repeating particular colors to create a sense of rhythm and repetition with variations. Davis’s contribution was invaluable in establishing Washington, D.C., as a center of contemporary art, with Davis playing a significant national and international role in the Color Field movement. The whole architectural project includes at its core the casino, but as well other resort amenities: a theater for concerts, hotel facilities, restaurants, shops and boutiques. Offices and condos are nearby, all to attract visitation and revenue. Into these variously scaled spaces art of different types, sizes, and materials have been situated. In consultation with James Murren, the CEO of MGM, Mark Myers, an art professional with Atlantic Arts based in Annapolis, selected and placed several dozen acquisitions and commissions.
In turn, Sam Gilliam’s art is perhaps most familiarly known for his stained and draped canvases, though here he has produced a sequence of framed abstract paintings with strong patches of color and pigment. In fact, one of the pleasures in this art selection is the presence of more unexpected examples from an artist’s career or style. Gilliam’s fellow Washington painter, Alma Thomas, also concentrated on stained color canvases. Her usual practice was to begin a composition in watercolor, and then proceed to a larger scale. By exploiting acrylic, a water-based paint, she was able to translate the radiant transparency of the preliminary washes into her large luminous pieces. As an aside, her Study for “Azaleas Sway in the Breeze” makes a felicitous comparison to other color studies like Chul Ahn’s The Wells, Elizabeth Kendall’s Cloud Pool, Cynthia Bickley’s Untitled, and especially Kenneth Young’s Spring Rain. Such internal connections make pleasant discoveries in experiencing the collection.

A kaleidoscope of contemporary photography in the National Harbor gathering adds another layer of richness to the whole. But it is the monumental works placed inside and out that are especially arresting. While the contrasts of materials, techniques, and scale draw attention, it is the rightness of siting in many instances that is most satisfying. Two wall installations in particular command attention. Margaret Boozer has created a large map of the local Potomac region, carved in red clay, covering the wall behind the reception desk. And extending across another long corridor, Katherine Mann painted several large panels, first in the studio and then hung together as a mural, on which she has added new layers of paint and collage. She has called it The Forest, an abstract panoramic landscape with an irregular silhouette and patterns of dense colors.

Kendall’s Cloud Pool appropriately floats overhead, a massing of glass and porcelain pieces, suspended from the ceiling in the retail promenade. Controlled color lighting plays through it to the white terrazzo floor below. Even more fitting, in the center of the casino lobby is the witty Cash Fighting by Liao Yibai. Two large sheets of polished steel in the shape of currency bills flare upward, with two figures stepping out to fight one another. It provokes a clever play between the literal and abstract form.

Outdoors, John Dreyfuss had the commission to set a grouping of half a dozen polished bronzes on the west terrace, with a view overlooking the Potomac River. One of the most dynamic works in sleek metal is John Safer’s Unity, consisting of three spiraling ribbons of stainless steel and occupying the automobile approach at the hotel entrance to the building. They are the distant descendants of Brancusi’s famous Endless Column in Romania, reaching heavenward, but these are at once machine-like and organic. The precision of design and execution moves beyond Brancusi to embody the high-tech aesthetic of our new century.

There are a handful of names with international recognition: Bob Dylan, Charles Hinman, Alice Aycock, Grace Hartigan, Larry Poons, Alexander Calder, Robert Rauschenberg, Alma Thomas, and Sam Gilliam. The latter two of course are prominent African-American painters with a local Washington base and exponents of the area’s locus for color-field painting. But also in this group other aspects of modernism are evident. Dylan’s lacy metal grille frames the entrance corridor to the casino itself. Hinman was a pioneer of the shaped canvas, not just in its contoured edges but also in its gently arced surfaces. He makes light seem to bend across them. Aycock plays with repeated metal panels in white, often suggesting rippling waves, as in Whirlpools, an apt title for an unfolding assemblage curving along the roadway entrance to the casino and overlooking the Potomac River.

Grace Hartigan, an important representative of Abstract Expressionism, here moves in her later work to more post-surrealist organic forms referencing Kandinsky and Leger. And Poons, more familiar for his floating ovals of colors, has shifted in recent years to heavy dripped and poured pigments to create a rough, almost sculptural, field of color. Calder we also know best for his three-dimensional mobiles and stabiles, though he extensively produced related works on paper often depicting discs of bright primary colors amidst swirling lines. His lithograph of Sun suggests cosmic bodies fixed in space.

Rauschenberg during the late 1950s and early sixties undertook a radical new approach to art that contradicted the previous dominance of Abstract Expressionism. He reintroduced everyday subject matter into his work, and drew on the traditions of synthetic cubism from the early twentieth century along with the arbitrary juxtaposition of images promoted by Dada and Surrealism. This resulted in a series he called Combines, which brought together different visual sources in constructed assemblages. In so doing, he helped break down the boundaries between painting, photography, silk screening, and sculpture. This approach became the foundation of all his later work. His two prints in the ROCI series, an abbreviation for Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange, resulted from a visit to Russia as part of a decade-long international tour to numerous countries to promote artistic conversation among cultures. At each stop he produced work that incorporated local references and indigenous visual traditions.
Mr. Wilmerding is Sarofim Professor of American Art, emeritus, at Princeton University.


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