Art Commentary: ‘Poets and Painters’ at Parrish Art Museum

Collaborations between various kinds of artists have become a common and fascinating occurrence. Early on, painters particularly enjoyed working jointly with diverse artistic outlets, including people like Robert Rauschenberg, who designed costumes for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. The Parrish Art Museum currently presents an exhibition that melds paintings (the visual arts) from their permanent collection and poetry (the literary arts), called simply and appropriately, “Poets and Painters.”

The exhibition conveys diverse uses of poetry and images. There’s Robert Dash’s “The Air is Like a Cryst-O-Mint” referencing poet James Schuyler’s work. The written words do not appear on the canvas, thus allowing the spectator to make a connection between Dash’s image of an open window and the poem. This connection depends on the viewer’s knowing the poetic metaphor (a Cryst-O-Mint tastes like a Life Saver on the tongue; the wind blowing through the opening window evokes the smell of mint). By putting the meaning together with just visual images, the artwork becomes conceptual art.

Another poem by Schuyler is not implied but written out in Darragh Park’s painting, “Oriane.”

Poets & Painters at Parrish Art Museum. Photo credit: Michael Pintauro

Photo credit: Michael Pintauro

The text’s physical proximity to the poet’s pet is sentimental and moving, expressing Schuyler’s feelings more than words could.

Other paintings extend the meaning of a poem equally well. An illustrated book, In Memory of My Feelings: A Selection of Poems By Frank O’Hara by Grace Hartigan conveys abstract lines, connected to each other. Frank O’Hara’s accompanying poem, “The Day Lady Died,” is a narrative work that records the poet’s errands as he goes from place to place. His attention to detail, as he names times, dates, places and people seems to capture O’Hara’s observant, signature style. The artist’s connected lines are a metaphor for the poet’s routine.

Conversely, Larry Rivers’ collaboration with poet John Ashbery is a study in irony. Ashbery’s style has often been labeled “Surrealism,” while his poetry defies the rules and logic of Surrealism. This seems to be the case in Rivers’ piece where an image of a man typing is balanced by Ashbery’s typed poem positioned next to the figure. There’s nothing apparently surreal about the work as a whole. Yet it could be.

Finally, Alfred Leslie’s front piece for Kenneth Koch’s book of poems, Permanently, appears to be similarly ambiguous. Koch’s particular poem (which is not written on the book cover) features playful words about parts of speech. Leslie’s cover image seems to be a large, closed envelope-like object. Does that item relate to the term, Permanently, meaning we won’t be able to open it for eternity?

“Poets and Painters” will be on view until Oct. 26, 2014, at the Parrish Art Museum, 279 Montauk Highway, Water Mill. 631-283-2118, parrishart.org

Poets & Painters at Parrish Art Museum. Photo credit: Michael Pintauro

Poets & Painters at Parrish Art Museum.
Photo credit: Michael Pintauro

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