Avant-Garde Moves to the Front at Monika Olko

So far, Sag Harbor’s Monika Olko Gallery has shown a diverse group of artwork; many exhibits might be considered non-mainstream although not entirely avant-garde. Of course, the term “avant-garde” is somewhat subjective depending on the context. For example, the 1920s was a good period for art that was totally different in style and meaning: think of Dadaism, Surrealism and Cubism. Even Expressionism during the ’20s might evoke the avant-garde because nothing in art, theater or film had preceeded it. Such art forms could represent a metaphor for the idea of “first responders” that we hear about today: people who initially answer the call to solve a problem when an event is not normal, like a fire. Is it possible, then, that Dadaism, for example, answered another kind of call: solving the need for a new kind of expression, one that was positioned in a political/social context (post-World War I)?

Here’s a provocative question: is there such a need for the avant-garde in today’s world? Probably. And what form might that kind of art take? This critic would say “conceptual art,” with all its varieties. Like the avant-garde of the past, however, some people can’t relate to conceptual art whatsoever.

Which leads us to another provocative question concerning the current exhibit by Al Anglickas at the Monika Olko Gallery. Could this artist’s work be labeled “avant-garde” (rather than “conceptual,” which it is not)? To answer this, we must determine if it is avant-garde work in the first place. Simply put, most pieces we saw combined at least two different styles in one image. Instead of evoking confusion, we would say that clarity emerged in some cases. To some viewers, this clarity might be an abnormal way of seeing reality and thus, it’s possibly avant-garde.

For example, Anglickas uses Cubism (recalling a Picasso-like figure) possessing abstract features as well. Pop Art is popular with the artist, too, where a sense of sound enhances the stylistic traits. Thus, deep noises seem to come from the featured object, adding realism to the Pop Art. Realism is combined with Abstraction in a different work: a few sprigs of cherry blossoms are placed with abstract lines to convey an arresting composition of opposing lines. The contradictory styles are equally arresting.

Another method that Anglickas employs to communicate his kind of reality is by merging the old and the new. In one work, a figure dressed in an 18th century waistcoat is juxtaposed alongside a geometric abstract shape. Since both forms are vertical, we attempt to make a connection between the past and present: perhaps the image suggests that the gentleman could survive in modern times.

Because Anglickas comes from Eastern Europe (but now lives in the area), his perception of reality may derive from the opposing aspects of his society: for example, Socialism vs. Capitalism; the working class vs. the upper class (the middle class is in the minority). His love of Western art styles, generally, may also account for his attraction to our art movements.

No matter how we look at his influences, we are fascinated, nonetheless, by Anglickas’ assimilation and the idea that his styles may be considered avant-garde.

Work by Al Anglickas will be on view until Feb. 12 at Sag Harbor’s Moniko Olko Gallery, 95 Main Street. Call 631-899-4740 for information. MonikaOlkoGallery.com

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