Oklahoma muralists deliver their own chopped-up take on Abstract Expressionism in new exhibition, opening Sept. 30
OKLAHOMA CITY | Sept. 23, 2021 — USA Today called Oklahoma City “a veritable outdoor gallery” when it declared the city the best place to view public art in America. Now, Oklahoma Contemporary is bringing murals indoors with Abstract Remix, an exhibition of the work of homegrown Abstract Expressionists who use the large-scale format of muralism as a medium for their giant concepts.
Opening at 6 p.m. Sept. 30 with a reception followed by an artist talk featuring Rhiana Deck, Codak Smith, Kalee Jones W. and May Yang in conversation with Associate Curator Pablo Barrera, Abstract Remix focuses on non-figurative murals that convey the ideas of things rather than realistically depicting them. As the 20th century Abstract Expressionist Jay Meuser once wrote, “It is far better to capture the glorious spirit of the sea than to paint all of its tiny ripples.”
Abstract Remix will be installed in the Mary LeFlore Clements Oklahoma Gallery, a space dedicated to showcasing Oklahoma artists, and the artists will be painting their murals directly on the walls. Barrera said Abstract Remix returns murals to their interior roots: from cave paintings to religious frescos of the Renaissance period, murals were largely an indoor phenomenon. In some ways, the Great Depression-era Works Progress Administration’s embrace of outdoor muralism and the graffiti movement of the 1970s liberated mural artists to create more public art.
“There was more sort of a pushback against the elitism of the gallery space,” Barrera said. “There was a drive and desire for art that everybody can see and that everyone can look at, where you’re sort of turning the exterior and the whole city landscape into the gallery.”
Barrera said that while much of modern muralism is figurative and character-oriented, he saw an opportunity to showcase the works of artists flying the flag of Abstract Expressionism, who found inspiration in the work of Wassily Kandinsky, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock and then discovered their own vision and style.
“I always say this over and over again when I talk about contemporary art: that I love how contemporary art makes us reflect on things that we think we’re familiar with, to see them again in a new light,” Barrera said. “And so what I like about the title, Abstract Remix, is this idea that you take things that you know, but then you recombine them and sort of reinterpret them. You chop them up, you dissect them, you kind of start to spread them out. You start to figure out the components that matter, and you free them from their associations so you can have a whole different engagement with the material.”