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Protean brings together a selection of post-war and contemporary works that explore the primordial development of both language and physical being. The presentation’s title takes its name from the shape-shifting Greek sea god, Proteus, who came to be regarded as a symbol of the original matter from which the world was created. Alluding to the dawning of life and guided by metaphysical reference, the presentation invites contemplation on the ways in which artists continue to grapple with ontological inquiry. Protean features work by 15 artists and will be accessible via the gallery’s Viewing Room from May 18–June 8, 2020.
Many of the works in the presentation conceive of their subjects in states of emergence or transmutation, recalling the quiet manifestation of form from the darkness that recurs in origin stories. Though the persistence of curved lines, biomorphic shapes and outcropping limbs combine to suggest the presence of bodies—human or otherwise—their uncanny juxtapositions and amalgamations refuse a simple figurative reading. Just as this sense of physicality in flux nods to the poetic narrative of evolution, the recurring use of symbolism and invocations of myth encourage a consideration of the presence of the divine.
These symbols, combined with ambiguous mark-making, evoke alphabets that are rudimentary or otherworldly, exploring the conceptualization of language and the stage of development at which intelligent beings begin to conceive of themselves and each other. Ruminating on both the material of spirit and the spirit of material, these reflections on the genesis of existence reaffirm the mystery of the world and the wonder it can inspire.
Included in the presentation are works by Alma Allen, Theodora Allen, Ali Banisadr, JB Blunk, Constantin Brancusi, Saint Clair Cemin, Max Ernst, Barry Flanagan, David Hockney, Robert Motherwell, Elie Nadelman, Elliott Puckette, Bosco Sodi, Dorothea Tanning, and Tezontle.