Ever since Marcel Duchamp started bringing the stuff of daily life into the sacrosanct space of the gallery and declaring it art, the definition of what a work of art is has been cracked wide open. Nowadays, art can be anything: a conversation catalyzed by a question, as in Tino Sehgal’s This Progress (2010); Nam June Paik’s magnificent mass of neon tubing and televisions arranged into a map of the United States; or a sumptuous pot of Thai curry dished up to hungry museum- and gallery-goers by Rirkrit Tiravanija and friends.
But at Christopher-Clark Fine Art, with its elegant selection of paintings, drawings, and prints by some of the most masterful artists in history, viewers can get back to the beautiful basics. In works dating from the Renaissance to the Modern period, by artists like Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt, Camille Pissarro, Renoir, Picasso, Robert Motherwell, and Salvador Dalí, focus turns to the mark of the artist’s hand, the expressive power of a line, and the transformation of an empty canvas, or a blank piece of paper, into a composition of richly modeled light, shadow, and color.
Rembrandt worked with light and shadow as if they were material. The tonal richness of his justly famous etchings is unparalleled. He drew from the Bible, daily life, and views of the Netherlandish flatlands, creating whole worlds—practically three-dimensional, full of heft and mass—out of light, shadow, and some of the finest, most detailed lines in the history of printmaking. The Impressionists also made images from light in works that diffused the scenes before their eyes into dappled, glowing color. What the light hit, they painted, starting with Pissarro, considered a founding father of this groundbreaking movement. Fast-forward to the lush abstractions of Motherwell, and all images of the world drop away. The paintings of this pioneering Abstract Expressionist are all line—fat, gestural, black—against monochromatic backgrounds.
While the leap from the works at Christopher-Clark Fine Art to conversations, televisions, and curries may be difficult to fathom, there is a bridge here. The history of art is one of innovation, of pushing approaches and materials well beyond perceived boundaries. This is what pioneering artists like Rembrandt, Pissarro, and Motherwell did, and what contemporary artists, often inspired by these forebears, continue to do today.