Review: The Lyrical Line at The Fralin Museum of Art

Stanley William Hayter
British, 1901–1988
Courtesy of Fralin Museum of Art at UVA
©2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York/ADAGP, Paris Stanley William Hayter British, 1901–1988 Courtesy of Fralin Museum of Art at UVA ©2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York/ADAGP, Paris

“The Lyrical Line,” which is on display for four months at The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia, features work from two of the most innovative printmakers of the early 20th century: Stanley William Hayter and Jacques Villon.

“Imagine thousands of lines engraved in metal make up a print, and they all make up a reality,” said Steve Margulies, the volunteer curator in charge of the exhibition, as he studied a Villon. “To me, this is like modern science, quantum theory. And [Villon and Hayter] were into that. Both of them.”

The prints were painstakingly selected from the University’s collection by Margulies—erudite, kind, he moves through the exhibition like an affectionate parent, examining the carefully hung prints as if they were his children.

Moving towards an engraving by Hayter from 1930 titled “Street (Building with Horse),” he said, “This one is heartbreaking and beautiful. Beautiful and heartbreaking.”

On display in the Stairhall Gallery, adjunct to the Pine Gallery, the exhibition has a meditative and peaceful feel, which suits the contents perfectly. “When you go to an art show, why is one thing hung next to another thing?” he asked. “There is a big, big reason for that. You can’t avoid it—each work of art has a conversation with the work of art next to it, and also with the work of art across the gallery.”

“This is a masterpiece of Surrealism,” said Margulies, pointing out a Hayter entitled “Combat.” “And this one is a masterpiece of Cubism,” he said, motioning to Villon’s “The Set Table.” “And they are talking to each other.”

It’s a small show, about a dozen pieces in total, but the strength lies in its intimacy and, as Margulies said, the “conversation” the pieces have with each other.

“I was very excited to bring these two together, because I think they look beautiful together, but also because I think they represent the two huge aspects of Modernism… Surrealism and Cubism. Surrealism being subconscious and poetic, Cubism being rational, mathematical. These two opposites worked great coming together.”

Surrealism and Modernism? Prints having conversations? Sound like “art speak”? Overwhelming? Maybe, but think of the old adage: if it isn’t hard it isn’t worth doing.

The work is challenging, but it’s also gratifying. And that’s the point.

The prints, and Hayter’s work in particular, are beautiful. They are full of energetic, graceful motion and dramatic interplay of charged light and darkness, and there’s something stimulating and psychologically suggestive in these images—like a Hitchcock movie—that is seductive and gratifying.

It’s almost as if you sense that, beneath the visible, beneath the image, there is a swirling of ideas and inspiration—a play between the seen and unseen.

“Both Hayter and Villon connected their art with poetry, music, and science. They worked with poets. There was a certain interchange between these principals,” Margulies said. The first half of the twentieth century was rife with groundbreaking scientific advancement—molecular theory, quantum mechanics, relativity—and these printmakers were responding to these ideas.

This exhibition takes you away from the traffic of 29, parking downtown, getting to work, getting to class, the rushing from one place to the next. The museum creates a temporary cocoon in which to rest and recharge the mind.

“In some ways connecting art, poetry and science reflects the larger mission of the museum, how it relates to the University,” said Jennifer Farrell, curator of exhibitions and contemporary art. “Not just serving the University, but the community as well.”

“The Lyrical Line” is only one facet in the Fralin Museum’s lineup this fall. Last week, an exhibition of work from renowned Life photographer Gordon Parks, entitled “The Making of the Argument,” opened, featuring a compelling collection of black and white images from the 1940s documenting a Harlem gang. This exhibition is accompanied by talks, screenings, and tours, and in November the museum will host a screening of films by Parks in partnership with the Virginia Film Festival.

The Fralin also runs several educational programs, including the popular Writer’s Eye, now in its 28th year. The program is “a literary competition—challenging writers of all ages to create original works of poetry and prose inspired by art in the museum.” It’s a chance for students and the greater community to interact with the museum and its contents on a different level. Charlottesville, this is your resource. This is your art museum.

“The Lyrical Line” will be on display through December 21.

Stanley William Hayter’s 1944 “Flight (Principle of Flight),” is one of the engravings on display in “The Lyrical Line.”

courtesy of the Fralin Museum of Art at UVA (C) 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

“Both Hayter and Villon connected their art with poetry, music and science. They worked with poets. There was a certain interchange between these principals,” said the Fralin’s volunteer curator Steve Margulies.

~ David Hawkins

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