Jennie C. Jones: Higher Resonance
The Hirshhorn Museum
May 16th- Oct 27th, 2013
by Tim Ruane
Jennie C. Jones pushes the world of art to a new place. An African American artist, Jones does this with her minimalist show, “Higher Resonance,” which turns a room of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. into a neat, pristine place. Jones shows three works on paper, two sculptures and more than ten paintings; she also adds something novel and powerful. Like a director of silent film, Jones accompanies her works with organized unusual sound: recomposed avant-garde African-American music—uncanny, futuristic, jazzy kind of stuff.
Jones begins her show with the works on paper, and she ends it with her sculptures. Structuring her show like this shows a certain genius. Her works on paper, a triptych, are passive, light, soft and even innocent, with mild long curving lines. They welcome viewers to the show giving them a sense of comfort and calm. Her sculptures are masculine—compact, firm, stout, with strong curves and powerful grooves. They usher the viewer away from the most powerful part of Jones’ show -her paintings- while reminding those who have experienced the show that they cannot live forever in a space that transforms them. They must return to the real world with its inevitable harsh realities.
Jones paintings initially cause concern. They are strikingly like the work of master abstract expressionist Barnett Newman; so questions arise: Why would the Hirshhorn display work that merely imitates, work that seems to copy great art, rather than establish individuality, a distinct mark and a niche for the modern artist? The theme of contemporary art is, after all, all about creating something new, something that has not been done before, but questions about Jones’ paintings are answered when one takes time to enjoy Jones entire exhibition.
Jones’ paintings are not solely paintings. They are double entendres. The Hirshhorn describes them as “acoustically active” platforms, and indeed they are. They are wrapped with a burlap-like cloth in varying shades of gray, and they rebound and enhance the show’s music; so Jones surpasses Newman, establishing as the Hirshhorn says “a territory of her own.”
The Hirshhorn also states that Jones “addresses the language of Ellsworth Kelly and Barnett Newman.” She explores the “confluences between two forms of abstraction: modern art and Africa-American music, particularly jazz.” She references “both musical notation and Minimalist art.” I myself would say that Jones does something like this:
She hangs work, large rectangular objects, which appear to be paintings, and these works, with their rectangular expanses in shades of gray, create what one viewer said—the “spiritual; spiritual, spiritual.”
This response to Jones’ work is easy to understand. Ms Jones paintings are powerful. They emit something somber like the most famous Mark Rothkos. Perhaps, like Rothko, Jones will someday have a chapel of her own, for her work does have a touch of the sacred. They hang in an immaculate white room with a curving graceful wall and filled with odd yet compelling music, which apparently comes from above. Jones’ aesthetic is transcending.
Sharon J. Burton, a consultant with The Artinista Art Advisory, tells of yet another of Jones’ accomplishments. Ms. Burton says that Jennie C. Jones has brought an African-American artist and African-American art to the fore of the avant-garde. This is an analysis with which lovers of new art cannot disagree.