Sarkisian & Sarkisian: Side By Side Exhibitions of Two Contemporary Artists

'Dusted' by Peter Sarkisian

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.—The Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) is presenting the long-overdue California survey of video artist Peter Sarkisian (born 1965, Glendale, Calif.) in the exhibition “Sarkisian & Sarkisian,” which also includes a survey of the artist’s father, Paul Sarkisian (born 1928, Chicago, Ill.), a member of the avant-garde movement in Los Angeles in the 1950s and 1960s.

For the exhibition, OCMA Interim Director and Chief Curator Dan Cameron selected 23 video sculptures by Peter Sarkisian along with 22 paintings by Paul Sarkisian to develop a thematic bridge between the separate bodies of work; tying together two accomplished careers that achieved distinctively different practices. The exhibition is on view April 13 through July 27, 2014.

Although it employs a single title, “Sarkisian & Sarkisian” is experienced as side-by-side survey exhibitions of two contemporary artists who happen to be father and son, working in different media. Paul has been an accomplished and dedicated painter for six decades, while Peter studied film directing at Cal Arts and has produced video installations since the mid-1990s. Within an exhibition layout in which an equivalent amount of visual attention is dedicated to each artist’s work, a connection between the two bodies of work emerges in the shared artistic device of trompe l’oeil, whose translation as “fool the eye” is an apt summation of how both artists use pictorial illusion to achieve very different ends.

“Sarkisian & Sarkisian” began as a straightforward overview of nearly twenty years of work by Peter Sarkisian, whose spatial integration of film, video and sculpture results in precisely calibrated multi-media works that consistently challenge the viewers’ perception of reality and illusion. From the groundbreaking work Dusted (1998), which utilized projection on the five faces of a cube to create the illusion of a mother and infant son inside; to the comical/violent antics of Registered Drive, Full Scale #1, (2010), in which a full-size model of a Ferrari Modena body serves as the frame for a driving lesson from hell, Sarkisian’s work employs video to punch through the spatial limits of pictorial space.

One of the leading members of the generation of video-based sculptors that emerged in the 1990s, Sarkisian’s work, while not as widely known as that of older video artists like Gary Hill or Bill Viola, is widely regarded among curators and writers within this still relatively specialized field. As Sarkisian’s work follows its evolutionary arc to his more recent robotic and levitation pieces, the technical challenges he is forced to overcome become increasingly difficult for ordinary viewers to grasp, and more hypnotically engaging.

Paul Sarkisian began his career in the mid-1950s as one of the founding members of a cooperative gallery in Pasadena whose members also included George Herms and Richard Pettibone. Although his work in the 1950s was heavily indebted to abstract expressionism, by the early 1960s he was making assemblage-based paintings that led to large-scale figurative paintings of an almost photographic precision. Early exhibitions at Pasadena Art Museum (1968) and Santa Barbara Museum of Art (1970) cemented his growing reputation as one of the most promising of an emerging generation of painters, as did his participation in documenta5 in Kassel, Germany, curated by Harald Szeeman. In 1972, as a sign of his growing disillusionment with the increasingly commercialized art market and the pigeon holing of his work as ‘photo-realism; Sarksian moved with his wife and son to the outskirts of Santa Fe, where the next decades of his artistic development remained all but hidden from the art establishment.

As Sarkisian’s painting developed from realism to trompe l’oeil to what became even more erroneously labeled as ‘abstract illusionism,’ his exploration of illusion was gradually supplanted by an a growing emphasis on exploring the qualities of surface in abstract painting, and his work increasingly emphasized large, open expanses of saturated color and dense, opaque polymer resins. With less than twenty examples of his work covering the years from 1971 to 2009, it is only possible to touch on the high points of this development, but the monotypes that occupied his attention in the 1990s, his giant monochromes of the early 2000s, and his recent collaged abstractions are all sufficiently represented to give viewers a taste for his unique artistic trajectory.
“Sarkisian & Sarkisian” is curated by Interim Director and Chief Curator Dan Cameron. Significant support for the exhibition is provided by Dick and Dottie Barrett and the Levy Foundation


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