Her art is for the sea and sky

It is always a pleasure, after several exhausting hours of gallery-viewing, to come upon art that lifts the spirit and causes one to forget mundane things. My introduction to the art of Jacqueline Monnier at Betty Parsons Gallery here was such an occasion. I walked into the gallery ready to call it a day, and left feeling relaxed and light as a bird.

Part of that lightness of spirit resulted from the airiness of the work itself, for much of it was designed to fly, flutter, or float, and most of the rest of it hangs delicately suspended from slender threads. It slowly turns and dips in the moving air.

Specifically, Monnier's works consist of kites designed to fly in the air or to move dramatically under water, banners that rotate or move vertically with the aid of electric motors, collections of tiny feathers and other flotsam and jetsam of nature and of urban living suspended on delicate threads, found objects mounted on boards, and small, brightly colored acrylic paintings.

Put that way it may not sound like much, but it's a lovely and exhilarating show.

In general, there are two basic types of artists: those who build their art the way a monument or a house is built, and those who increasingly divest themselves of skills, prejudgments, and taboos to achieve greater vulnerability to life's most fugitive and subtle whispers of intent.

Those, in other words, whose art is a life- long accrual of the evidence of skill, invention, and knowledge, and whose art is an opening up to new possibilities and combinations -- regardless of how strange and even preposterous these may at first appear.

Monnier, without a shadow of doubt, belongs in the second category. Because she trusts her intuitions so completely and because they have served her so well in return, she produces art that is itself alive and doesn't merely mimic the appearance of life in something else.

By accepting and relaxing into the rhythms and currents of life, she creates art that crackles with life, that moves with great ease in the sky or under water, and that trembles in response to the most gentle movement of air.

It is an art based on trust and the ability so to suspend her creative ego that she can permit the identity of a work of art to be established by the whims of nature, by air or water currents, by the color of sky or water which her kites move against, by the dramatic twirling caused by a sudden rush of air, of her tiny objects on a thread. In this way, and not by any evidence of skill or proof, she knows the rules and rituals of art.

Monnier is in cahoots with nature, with its laws and its infinite range of possibilities, and is not concerned with the monuments of art history. Her art relates to life and not to the musuem, and it is for that reason that viewing her kites in a gallery exhibition is much like looking at an eagle in a cage. They and it belong in the sky -- or as in the case of her underwater kites, dashing and prancing about several meters below the surface of the Mediterranean or the Caribbean like so many happy porpoises.

Given all this liveliness, this vulnerability to life, how can we possibly judge such work the way we do monuments, portraits, or sweeping landscapes?

The answer is that we can't, that we are living in an age in which the frontiers of art have been so dramatically extended that many of the old rules and definitions of art no longer apply.

Chief among these old rules is that art must reflect nobility or grandeur, that it must always, by definition, commit itself to trying to "uplift" its viewers. Or that it must have a tale to tell or an ideal to espouse.

Such art will always be with us and I'm grateful for it. But art is primarily proof of the vitality, beauty, and diversity of life, and so needs to take as many paths toward realmany of the old rules and definitions of art no longer apply.

Chief among these old rules is that art must reflect nobility or grandeur, that it must always, by definition, commit itself to trying to "uplift" its viewers. Or that it must have a tale to tell or an ideal to espouse.

Such art will always be with us and I'm grateful for it. But art is primarily proof of the vitality, beauty, and diversity of life, and so needs to take as many paths toward realization as does nature with its countless varieties and species of living things.

Jacqueline Monnier, by taking art out into the skies and into lakes and oceans, is expanding the stage upon which art can be played. While the works in this exhibition are in themselves complete and beautiful, it is what she is helping to open up in the way of an extended perception of art that is the most exciting thing about this show.

i came to it after viewing the art of roughly three dozen other artists, all of whom evidenced more traditional art skills than she.

But it was her work that moved me most.

This exhibition at betty Parsons Gallery will remain on view through oct. 4.

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