Locks Gallery

Catch It and Lose It

October 5th – November 24th

Opening Reception: October 5, 5:30 – 7:30pm

The impartiality of the absolute

Routs      the polemic

Or which of us

Would not

Receiving the holy-ghost

Catch it      and caging

Lose it

—Mina Loy, “Human Cylinders”

The past 60 years have seen the tide of abstract painting ebb and flow. Its time of death is called every few decades following a revival of representational art, the breakneck pace of technology, or the fickleness of the market. And yet, it is miraculously revived every so often—ostensibly for the first time. In its ineffability, it resists communion with contemporary fashion—refusing to serve as a cultural mirror or temporal guide. It is a language forged through materiality, negotiated agency, and distance. As a genre, “abstract painting” connects a rich genealogy of artists united by an ever-evolving syntax that has woven to form a grand tradition only to splinter and reknot in unknowable formation. Taking its name from the work of early twentieth-century British futurist, Mina Loy, Catch It and Lose It seeks a space between certainty and ambiguity, allowing the astonishing breadth of contemporary abstraction to propagate unhindered.

Catch It and Lose It ruminates on the relationship between two distinct groups of abstraction. The first defines abstraction as a constructed language of strokes which correspond with a painting’s conceptual and performative girding: works which “catch it.” The second selection details the release of agency from the artist and structured clarity of language to an amorphous transcription of meditative processes: works which “lose it.” This is not to say that either camp provides a straightforward answer to questions posed about the significance or intent of abstract painting. Rather, both groups exemplify the complexity of syntactical compositions.

The works of Pat Steir, Bernard Frize, Lee Ufan, and Warren Rohrer resonate with careful calculations, machinations which deliver them to a plane of abstraction beyond the visual and conceptual realm. The works of Pat Steir, for example, can be understood as alchemic reactions in which the distillation of the artist’s agency, the medium’s materiality, and physical forces of nature intermingle to produce an arcane vocabulary of drips and splatters which might harbor the formula for the prima materia. Similarly, Bernard Frize’s robust oeuvre of mutable styles and highly orchestrated compositions exemplify the natural emergence of a new visual language through a symbiotic marriage between careful invention and welcome disruption. These works cultivate a complex linguistic structure and then fracture them, breaking them down to their purest form through meticulous strokes and organized exchange with their material environment.

In contrast, works by Sean Scully, Sadie Benning, Liliane Tomasko and John Armleder illustrate a rigorous adherence to the formal quality of their abstraction, catching the essence of their linguistic motivation and solidifying it on the canvas. For Sean Scully, simplified compositions of banded pigments are the result of years spent investigating light, color and form, breaking down those components and reorganizing them through deliberate, sensual strokes. John Armleder’s practice developed out of the Ecart Group and Fluxus movements and shapes a language that is unclassifiable and transformative. His dynamic style reflects on the artistic ennui of his generation, reinterpreting trends and styles reflexively and critically. These works are translations, ones which catch amorphous emotions and memories before relaying them through the artist’s unique syntactical formula.

Catch It and Lose It hosts these languages in common forum, allowing them to reverberate and intermingle in a cacophony that portrays the possibilities of form, style, and concept that emerge from these abstract pursuits.


Optical // Obstacle

October 5th – November 29

Opening Reception: October 5, 5:30 – 7:30pm

Anni Albers (1899 – 1994), Edna Andrade (1917 – 2008), and Dadamaino (1930 – 2004)  each made outstanding contributions to the evolution of postwar abstraction during a period in which innovations by female artists were eclipsed by those of their male counterparts. “optical//obstacle” brings together works of art by these three pioneering female artists active around the mid-twentieth century.

Each artist sought abstract vocabularies that transcended narratives of politics and gender, and created works that were somehow out of keeping with their artistic milieu. Their works distil the canvas down to pure geometry and abstract design–whether the crisp, hard-edged abstraction of Albers and Andrade, or the careful elliptical excisions and slashes of Dadamaino. Drawing on principles of gestalt psychology, the artists attempt to understand the laws behind our ability to acquire and maintain meaningful perceptions in an apparently chaotic world by creating works which activate bodily and visual engagement within the viewer. Andrade and Albers use provocative, jarring repetitions to shock the viewer into disorientation by rupturing the visual field with distorted grids. Leveraging equivalent values to provide the ultimate stasis between figure and ground and positive and negative forces, they challenge two-dimensional space. Their hypnotic, highly saturated compositions seem to pivot around a central focal point, rotating inward and outward simultaneously through rhythmic repetition. Dadamaino’s work similarly undertakes a phenomenological examination of vision and a conceptual and spatial investigation of painting by exploring the tensions between light and shadow, black and white, and negative and positive space. In forcing the viewer to look through the surface instead of at the surface, Dadamaino radicalizes the notion of painting–the picture plane is no longer a support for content, but instead it is the content. Her serialized, articulated voids are the focus of the work, and she uses this emptiness to critique the very nature of painting. She literally creates new space–new volumes–and reduces the canvas to a conceptual blank slate.

The turbulent and destabilizing compositions on view in “optical//obstacle” might echo the social upheaval and cultural crises of the 1960s and 1970s in which they were made. Each artist was invested in an emphatic shift from the object of art to the experience of art. Albers, Andrade, and Dadamaino worked concurrently, but in different contexts. They were pioneers of their respective mediums and eras, and their existential investigations of form, space, and perception have inspired subsequent generations of artists and designers. Though they have been largely omitted or presented as a footnote in canonical art historical narratives, “optical//obstacle” provides an opportunity to create a dialogue between these three groundbreaking artists without subjecting them to the laborious process of art historical recovery.

Founded in 1968, Locks Gallery represents an international group of critically respected contemporary artists working in a variety of disciplines. The exhibition program is a diverse combination of fresh perspectives on 20th-century masters, showcases of emerging talent, and new bodies of work from a core group of acclaimed mid-career artists. With a sustained commitment to contextualizing the work exhibited, the gallery regularly publishes illustrated catalogs with scholarly essays and hosts public programs such as artist talks, panel discussions, and gallery walkthroughs.

A collaboration with the artist (or their estate) is at the core of each exhibition, allowing the gallery to present original programming. The staff cultivates long-standing relationships with individuals and institutions, fostering a new climate for contemporary art collecting in the city of Philadelphia.

The gallery presents a broad spectrum of artistic practices, with a focus on seminal works in painting and sculpture. Priding itself on its museum quality setting and artistic excellence, Locks Gallery is a longtime member of the ADAA (Art Dealers Association of America) and subscribes to the highest measures of connoisseurship, scholarship, and curatorial practice.

Locks Gallery was founded in 1968 as Marian Locks Gallery. The original gallery on the 1800 block of Chestnut Street, was of the first commercial galleries in Philadelphia devoted exclusively to contemporary art. In 1971, the gallery moved into the former home of the Yale Club on the second floor of 1524 Walnut Street. The gallery became known for building a national audience for the work of living Philadelphia artists along with cultural events such as poetry readings that attracted participants from outside of Philadelphia. During that time, Marian Locks opened a satellite space on lower Arch Street to exhibit installation, earthworks, and emerging artistic practices that were more experimental and less commercially attractive.

In 1990, the gallery moved to the southeast corner of Washington Square Park in a dramatic three story 1918 Italianate Palazzo style building formerly occupied by Lea & Febiger Publishers. Now under the direction of Sueyun Locks, the gallery continues to highlight local talent with a strong focus on women artists, alongside national and international artists.

Image Captions

1 Locks Gallery Building.

2 Pat Steir, Two Blues, 2013, oil on canvas, 84 x 84 inches

3 Edna Andrade, Four Hot Planets, 1965, oil on canvas, 68 x 68 inches