This exhibition bookends the career of Richard Koppe (1916-1973). One wall is lined with delicate, subtly colored gouache miniatures from 1938 when the twenty-two-year-old was fresh out of art school in St. Paul and Chicago. The opposite walls are hung with the large, aggressive, hard-edge panels from a 1970 exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art. What’s missing is the more lighthearted, whimsical work from his middle years spent as a designer and instructor at the Institute of Design.
The early works appear to be variations on a seated Picasso female in cubist space. They are more like exercises in design than anything to do with women: sexy, angry or otherwise, but they are delightfully low-key and melancholy. The late works—bold designs of solid, simple shapes in primary colors—are as ebullient and in-your-face as a wall display in a sporting goods store, minus the team logos.
Koppe’s stylistic transformation echoes the cultural history of America as it moved from the anxiety of the Great Depression to the wacky commercial exuberance of the 1960s. Almost all of it points to a creative mind that loved to meticulously arrange things, though a few of the later pieces do seem to have joined the postmodern project of assaulting the eye with commercial banality.
As a bonus, the gallery is also showing two screen-prints by the artist’s second wife, Catherine Hinkle. With delicate colors hanging from a net-like grid, her mellow designs create a comfortable, lively fabric. It’s too bad her career seems to have been under the shadow of her husband’s. (Chris Miller)
Through January 26 at Corbett vs. Dempsey, 1120 North Ashland.