Art: Review: Julian Stanczak

Renowned painter returns for CAC exhibition and some 'tubing'

Aug 28, 2007 at 2:06 pm

Julian Stanczak's "Costellation in Green"

Julian Stanczak, accompanied by his wife Barbara and their son Krzys, was in town for the recent opening of Julian Stanczak at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC).

When I talked to Stanczak there was still a flutter of excitement from the opening the night before. The exhibition celebrates his newly designed sculpture, "Additional," which faces the CAC from across Sixth Street. It is his first major three-dimensional work.

Stanczak's shift from two to three dimensions is a natural progression.

"(I've)always wanted to work in three dimensions," he said with gusto.

In a way, he's always done that. Illusions of depth and movement are constant elements in his paintings and prints.

The CAC exhibition presents, in an unfortunately few works, the kind of thinking that preceded the artist's block-long blockbuster directly across the street.

Commissioned by Fifth Third Bank to mask a dull garage façade on Sixth Street between Vine and Walnut streets, "Additional" consists of 522 hollow aluminum bars painted in meticulously planned color combinations.

Two hundred of the bars are set at 25 different degrees of slope across the other 322, which are lined up vertically. The piece had to be open so that air could move through, so shadowy glimpses of what is beyond become a part of the work.

Because of the intricacy of its color application, "Additional" provides continuous experiences of what Stanczak calls "changes and surprises" for the viewer making his or her way along Sixth Street. One example is the upper border, which is purple on the left and green on the right when viewed from the east, becomes green at the left and purple at the right when viewed from the west.

Stanczak says he rarely makes preliminary drawings. Two sculptural works in the show are working models for what was then called "Additive," but the other three, each with quite a different color range, are "supportive ­ not directly related" to "Additional." All of these pieces are from 2006. The first "Additive" lacks the border that, again for practical reasons, became part of the final design, which the artist thinks strengthenrd the work.

Nine paintings, most of them multi-paneled and dating from 1969 to 2005, make up the rest of the show. All are acrylic, and more recent works are on wood panels rather than canvas. They demand and reward close attention. "Greens for Big Ma" (1999) consists of six wood panels in various sea-green shades reaching to blue, with two alternating patterns of lines that seem to undulate despite their fixity. Color and line are Stanczak's obsession. The five panels of "Rites of Spring" (1988) employ diagonals over verticals in a foreshadowing of the exuberance of "Additional."

This show is not Stanczak's first appearance at the CAC. In 1961 he took first prize in the CAC's Third Interior Valley Competition while a member of the Art Academy of Cincinnati faculty. In the midst of the Polish-born artist's years here, 1957 to 1964, he became a well-known and innovative leader in the Optical Art movement ­ a term he initially derided but has now good-naturedly come to accept, although he thinks it limiting.

Stanczak's work is, of course, much more than optical tricks. Like his Yale professor Josef Albers, Stanczak shows us how rich a narrow vein can be. Within his selected limits he finds continual diversity.

From 1964 until his retirement in 1995, Stanczak taught at the Cleveland Institute of Art and he still lives in Cleveland. Although the art world took up other enthusiasms following its Optical Art period, interest in Stanczak's work remained in many quarters.

He's long been associated with Cincinnati's Carl Solway Gallery, which has an international clientele and recently latent interest has blossomed. Stanczak had four solo shows last year, he once again has a New York dealer and he continues to be represented in many museum, corporate and private collections.

Barbara Stanczak, herself a sculptor and professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art, submitted about 20 of Julian's works from which to choose then-CAC curator Cynthia Goodman for the show here. Like many artists' wives, Barbara is de facto business manager for her husband. The two met when she was studying at Cincinnati's Art Academy and he was on the faculty. Despite this artistic heritage, their son Krzys is quick to identify himself as a scientist. Given the precision of his father's work and its edge of scientific exactitude, a scientist son might be just what the genes ordered.

Goodman's choices had to be limited, as the show is crammed into the long, thin U.S. Bank Gallery on the CAC's second floor, which is not the most welcoming space for large works like these. The far end, where the ceiling soars an extra story, is more hospitable than the skinny middle section where it's impossible to see the works at any distance.

Too truncated to be a retrospective, the exhibition is a pleasure to see but not the in-depth look it surely could be at this time in the artist's career. Grade: B

JULIAN STANCZAK is on view at the Contemporary Arts Center through Feb. 11, 2008.