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Katherine Gianaclis in the Desert
Dr. James Mann
Las Vegas Art Museum
The exhibition of these works by the late Katherine Gianaclis, painted in Las Vegas in the 1960s effects a truly significant resurrection of compelling, profound, and advanced work, retrieved from its hitherto complete isolation and obscurity. Her paintings were well ahead of their time in that they exhibit three salient qualities in common with one of the major modes of new art being made by members of the baby-boom generation., in the U.S. and other countries, starting in the 1980s.
The first quality, or characteristic, is an original combination of imagery, from a disparate range of cultural sources, being employed within one painting. In Gianaclis’s case, this means imagery taken from the tradition of European art history; from the art of other major world cultures past and present; and from more popular levels of art and life within the artist’s surrounding cultural environment. The second quality derives somewhat from the first: a deliberate variety of incongruent styles being employed within the bounds of a single work.
The third quality is a non-unified picture plane. That is, various images and scenes in a single painting are montaged, so to speak, or overlaid: they are represented together, whether juxtaposed or superimposed one over another. The resulting work of art contains objectified subject matter which in mundane reality could not occupy the same three-dimensional, early space or place.
In the 1960s, therefore, and in complete provincial obscurity, Gianaclis was already working in a mode or manner that in the 1980s suddenly arose, without apparent precedent, among artists who are, on the whole, a full generation younger than her. At the present time, included in the same exhibition with Katherine Gianaclis at LVAM, the Las Vegas Artist Patricia Vasquez and Paul Rodgers, each more than a generation younger than her, are working very much in the mode, or method of composition, which Gianaclis arrived at twenty-five years earlier. Other artists ploughing related ground, who have been exhibited at LVAM since 1997, include: Colin Dodd (Great Britain/US), Stephanie Bell (U.S.), Katya Cohen (Brazil/U.S.), Zara Krigstein (Germany/U.S.), Robert Fischer (U.S.), Jay Watkins (U.S.), and Suz Brna (U.S.).
There is, in fact, some art-historical precedent for this shared compositional procedure. (See paragraph six, in italics, of the Curator’s essay “Marc Chagall in the Siren City,” elsewhere in this ArtBeat.)
A clearly feminist philosophical element is present in the thematic and narrative content of Gianaclis’s 1960s paintings, so that in this respect as well, she was a genuinely advanced artist. Altogether, Katherine Gianaclis was a painter whose work has: an impressively usable knowledge of multicultural art history; real intellectual force; superior technical skills and vocabulary; high emotional intensity; and clear originality of artistic invention.
That Gianaclis should have been working in Las Vegas in the early 1960s is important evidence that by that date, the desert city was already building, better than it knew then or even knows yet, a cultural climate capable of yielding, at the highest cultural level, an artistic originality which is destined to distinguish itself internationally in the twenty-first century.