Monday, April 6, 2009
even earlier: more with regard to the Mildred Thompson retrospective
The exhibition in Düren, which one hopes will eventually travel to other cities where Mildred Thompson lived and worked, is a belated career homage to a woman who brushed history against the grain at almost every moment of her time on this planet, from her childhood in a segregated Jacksonville, Florida to her years of art school in Hamburg and her brief return to the US followed by her return to Germany and subsequent peregrinations in Europe, and certainly during her sometimes tempestuous final years in the United States, where she was associate editor of Art Papers for a number of years and a beloved instructor at Spelman and later at the Atlanta College of Art.
The works chosen for the retrospective should allow viewers to reassess Thompson's cosmic inclinations (her most popular course at ACA, "Making Visible the Invisible," included reflections on the uses of scientific illustrations as metaphors for painting—not something that Thompson originated, but a topic about which others have had a great deal more to say in the years since Thompson's death).
If Thompson's late paintings look like updatings of Bauhaus-years Kandinsky for the final years of the 20th century, her outspoken opinions in the first years of the 21st come close to declaring that painting itself had finally reached the end that folks had predicted for generations, and that the rise of digital technology meant that we would finally leave behind the "smearing mud on walls with sticks" (her words, or her words as I recall them) that we humans had done ever since the Paleolithic.
Thompson, of course, always made statements for their shock value as much as for their communicative value, but at that point in her career she was working with computer programs for the composition of music.
As the author of one of the catalogue essays for the Düren exhibition, I hope to be in a position to fulfill requests for further information regarding the checklist of the exhibition, which will be in Düren through June 14.