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November 10, 1985

by Phyllis Braff

MOST university galleries place high priority on exposing their audiences to examples of spirited innovation. The C. W. Post Center's Hillwood Art Gallery, directed by Judy Collischan Van Wagner, has been doing this well in the last few years, presenting a number of creative people whose work seems to be at the cutting edge of artistic ideas.


The current exhibition directs attention to the accomplishments of Judith Murray (paintings) and Ursula von Rydingsvard (sculpture). In both cases, their careers have involved the courage and dedication that comes with pursuing an independent course.


Both artists have received considerable recognition in the last decade, including major awards, commissions and invitations to participate in prestigious exhibitions. Miss von Rydingsvard is on the Yale facullty; Miss Murray has taught and lectured at Pratt Institute, Long Island University and other schools. This selection of their recent work makes a strong exhibition, and one that is surprisingly sensuous in an era of strident expressionism.


Wood surfaces have never looked more beautiful, nor have they been shaped to behave with such drama, as in Miss von Rydingsvard's cedar sculptures. The material seems to grow and expand into lyrical, flowing, swelling and softly rippling forms. The effect is mesmerizing, and one has the feeling that it is pliable clay being modeled rather than wood undergoing sensitive grinding steps. The artist likes to explain that she uses the grinding tool ''like a paintbrush.''


Inventing a rhythmic, emotion-producing arrangement for the shaped components is what particularly fascinates her, and it is the kind of order she imposes that gives a profound impact to her more successful pieces. Rigid and awesome, the line of 40 tall shafts in ''Lucretia's Wall II'' forms a long, freestanding structure with the appearance of an icon for contemplation. Miss von Rydingsvard finds every aspect of controlled space challenging. When she develops a configuration that compresses space internally, as we see in a hutlike mound, the resulting feeling of tense containment has psychological overtones.

Mercury 17-5x18-5 1984-85-s.jpg

Judith Murray, Mercury, 1984

Once the primary structure is established, Miss von Rydingsvard sets about systematically interrupting the arrangement's predictability with abstract shapes that are often built-up, or added on. Such variations are the key to what is so original here, for they direct the eye to concentrate on small situations within the scheme. Both the order and the irregularities that disturb it entice the eye and are made to seem important.


Miss Murray's highly refined abstract paintings also hold the eye in a lengthy, rather meditative experience. Here it is a case of perception adapting to very subdued geometric forms that only gradually clarify themselves. They seem to lie under bolder, more sharply defined shapes, and this makes a viewer conscious of responding to a single painting at two time levels: the immediate impact of the swift, dynamic elements that readily leap forward, and the later, slower relationship with the more muted aspects of the composition.


Dual reactions are triggered in the von Rydingsvard work too, and this is a significant aspect of the achievements of both artists.


Miss Murray's paintings also offer some exciting ideas about illusion, color, depth and space. Although images at first seem fairly simple -arcs, geometrics and pointed, aggressive cones or explosionlike shapes -the paintings are carefully studied, quite complex and full of contrasts. There are mysterious lights and total blackness, smooth areas and unexpected textures, blazing hot and icy cold colors, quiet and pushing forms.


Miss Murray's efforts to make certain units seem sculptural - usually by lighting selected edges - adds considerably to the compelling impact, and the blackness surrounding all elements makes everything seem to have weight and substance. Just three colors - red, white and ochre -are used, in addition to the black, but when glazed and built up in layers there is a resonance as well as a tonal range that is remarkably rich.


Texture is prominent in the most recent canvases. One of the best, ''Mercury,'' combines ribs of raised, thick pigment with fine graining, dragging and strokes that rush in several directions and often overlap. A striking blend of harshness and sensitivity in both the painting and the sculpture can be seen as a reflection of today's world, and this tends to lend validity to the goals these interesting artists are pursuing.


The show will be on view through Nov. 27. The gallery, in the Hillwood Commons building on the Brookville campus, is open from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. Mondays through Fridays and 1 to 5 P.M. on Sundays.

A version of this review appears in print on November 10, 1985, on Page 11LI28 of the National edition with the headline: ART; TWO ARTISTS ON THE CUTTING EDGE.

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