An exhibition of both iconic and lesser-known works from thirty-eight of the most significant and compelling artists of the last fifty years, Open This End: Contemporary Art from the Collection of Blake Byrne traces a number of intertwined narratives in the history of recent art, from the 1960s to the present. The exhibition’s title comes from a 1962 painting by Andy Warhol, the earliest work in the show, and frames the exhibition as a present to be unpacked, a surprise that audiences will delight in discovering. The exhibition has been curated by Joseph R Wolin.
The last fifty years have seen a proliferation of styles and movements in art, such as Pop Art, Minimalism, Conceptual Art, performance, video, neo-expressionism, the Pictures Generation, identity politics, digital art. The intertwined legacies of these modes and many others thread their way through contemporary art. Tracing each strand tells a different story about art history and studio practice, about forms and materials, about subjects and themes, about social concerns and cultural moments, and about the creation of meaning through objects and gestures.
Open This End: Contemporary Art from the Collection of Blake Byrne brings together works by some of the most significant artists of the last half-century. The exhibition includes major examples of painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, installation, and video, allowing us to track a number of interwoven narratives. It does not follow a single route but, rather, strives to offer viewers multiple paths to explore a variety of artistic movements and periods, and to map subjects, formal developments, and poetic affinities throughout the evolution of recent art. Much like contemporary art itself, the themes of the exhibition are diverse, intersecting, and sometimes challenging.
The works in the exhibition come from the collection of a single individual, Blake Byrne, who acquired them over the course of two and a half decades, and who has made major gifts of art from his collection to both the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, his alma mater, and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Open This End represents a celebration of Byrne’s love for art and his dedication to philanthropy on the occasion of his eightieth birthday.
The exhibition’s title comes from the earliest work included, a 1962 painting by Andy Warhol. “Open This End” constitutes a semi-ironic direction to the viewer, both an invitation and an exhortation. By extension, it suggests that contemporary art may comprise a sometimes puzzling package that we can unwrap for both pleasure and edification. In a humorous vein, the title implies that there exists a certain way to approach contemporary art and its history, a particular end from which to open the box. It is, however, an implication belied by contemporary art itself, and by the multiple, parallel, interconnected, open-ended, and at times contradictory artistic and historical strands this exhibition gathers together.
The exhibition suggests some of the ways we might unpack contemporary art, and how we might begin to understand these works as engaged in a series of exchanges that span genres, mediums, historical periods, and artistic styles. Art, as Blake Byrne has noted, is a conversation, and he chose the works in his collection in part because of what they have to say to him, and to each other. Approaching the box from this angle, we may enter into an ongoing dialogue with art and artists that transcends time and space, presenting us with the gift of open-ended journeys through recent art.
Joseph R. Wolin is an independent curator and critic. Exhibitions he has organized have been seen at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Drawing Center, New York; and The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut; and the Seoul Museum of Art. He is a frequent contributor to Time Out New York and Canadian Art, and teaches in the MFA programs at Parsons The New School for Design and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.