Immersive art

How do you balance gimmickry and conceptual art?

Months later, I am still chewing on some of the responses to my altarpieces during the spring critique.  To recap, several of my peers loudly agreed about how the hinged frames detracted and distracted from the painted imagery.  When consulted separately, several clarified their stance as not necessarily being against the hinged format…they were merely against every attempt I had ever made at incorporating it.

nor against yourself_exterior_6.3

Nor against yourself polyptych, spring 2013, closed

nor against yourself_inside left_6.3 nor against yourself_inside center_6.3  nor against yourself_inside right_6.3

Nor against yourself polyptych, spring 2013, open

Might this disjunction and dissatisfaction be part of our modern conception of how the painting and frame interact?  In the Philadelphia Museum of Art, several of the pre-Renaissance artworks chart the transition of thought on the relative importance of frames and what they frame.  Earlier works use them as equally-important components of a unified artwork to the frame.  Gradually the frames become mere embellishment for a far more important painting.

Perhaps this is a surmountable barrier.  Polyptychs such as Nor against yourself and In the beginning incorporated the compositional strategies of their historical antecedents and were far more favorably received than Pathetic fallacy or Remember [the Sa]bbath.  This allowed viewers to piggyback their analysis of the polyptych to previous examples of art history.

Conversely, there may be some formats which attempt to recontextualize painting but only manage to transform it into decoration.  This is a major danger whenever illusionistic two-dimensional painting is applied on a three-dimensional surface:  one must be dominant.

Consider the immersive quality of Monet’s Water Lilies (Les Nympheas) at the Musée de l’Orangerie, 19th century cycloramas, and Alex Lukas’s Untitled.  All three paintings play with the concept of actually surrounding viewers with a panoramic painting.  How much of their charm as paintings is sacrificed to the gimmick of the panoramic format?  Do we gain more than we lose through these stylistic adventures?

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