Audette retrospective showcases painter's mastery of form
John Slade Ely House Center for Contemporary Art
51 Trumbull Street, New Haven, (203) 624-8055
Anna Held Audette: A Retrospective
Through May 27, 2012.
We live in a strange world, a world we make and a world we destroy. Within that cycle of creation and destruction there can be found a lot of surprising beauty.
For at least two decades, painter Anna Held Audette has been crafting complex paintings inspired by the structures and machinery of the modern industrial age as it slides into obsolescence. The retrospective of her work at the John Slade Ely House, which closes this Sunday, is a master class in painterly skill, composition and conceptual rigor.
Throughout the two floors of the Ely House are a few dozen paintings—along with some older prints and drawings—mostly concerned with architectural and technological form.
Had Audette been painting in the 1930's or 1950's, her work might have been glorifying the majestic, burgeoning industrial might of the United States, sort of a "Capitalist Realism." But most of the works date from the 1980's on, a period in which the predominant trend has been deindustrialization.
Many of these works are landscapes of collapse and decay—scrapyards piled high with machine debris, rusting in the sun, and factory buildings, gutted and falling apart. Audette has dubbed the latter paintings "modern ruins." In their conceptual concern, they reference the Renaissance and post-Renaissance predilection for painting the ruins of antiquity (see "Hubert Robert in New Haven" , below).
But this is a collapse run at fast-forward speed, and with conscious intent. Our ruins may be monumental in scale but there is something wasteful and small about them. That, however, is a socio-political judgment. As an aesthetic matter, there is an undeniable attraction to these scenes of piled-high junk (like "Scrap Metal V" , below), gears and machinery and light streaming in through tall windows overlooking mournful, empty factory floors.
While these are representational works, Audette often painted cropped segments of scenes; she usually worked from photographs. The effect is to approach a kind of formal abstraction in which color, contour, light and shape juxtapositions are more important than depicting a specific object (see "Old New Haven Terminal" , below).
A dozen or so of Audette's most recent works are shown in the final room on the second floor. Audette was diagnosed in 2009 with Fronto-Temporal Dementia (FTD), a rare form of Alzheimer's disease. While Audette's lifelong interest in making art declined initially, since 2010—with the assistance and encouragement of former student Carole Dubiell—she has completed 120 "new" paintings, including "Ship II" (2011), seen below.