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"Forum 61: Lowry Burgess"
2007-11-10 until 2008-03-23
Carnegie Museum of Art
Pittsburgh, PA, USA

Lowry Burgess is an artist who has been exploring the earth, universe, cosmology, and humans’ relationship to these elements since the 1960s. Four of his large-scale paintings, ranging from 15 to nearly 17 feet in height, will be on view in Carnegie Museum of Art’s Forum Gallery in Forum 61: Lowry Burgess, November 10, 2007–March 23, 2008. The paintings describe visions that the artist has had and are part of Quiet Axis, a larger ongoing artwork begun in 1966 and comprising eight major aspects (a series of elaborate artworks created all over the world, under the seas and oceans, on deserts and mountaintops, and in outer space) and 60 preparations for the creation of these works of art. Burgess refers to these large, visually intense paintings as visionary portals or gateways that connect the viewer to the aspects of Quiet Axis.

Burgess is a professor of art at Carnegie Mellon University, where he is also a distinguished fellow in the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, and former dean of the College of Fine Arts. He has a long involvement with art developed through the exploration of space, and in 1989 his work Boundless Cubic Lunar Aperture, was the first piece of art taken into space by NASA.

“Burgess's works are not simply paintings as they are tied to an artistic practice that combines physics with philosophy while demonstrating an intense poetic sensitivity,” says Douglas Fogle, curator of contemporary art and organizer of the exhibition. “Standing in front of these ‘portals’ opens our individual human perception to the immensity of the larger physical universe. It's amazing that he has consistently maintained this vision in his work for nearly four decades."

In 1968, while in Cambridge, MA, Burgess had a “waking vision” of a lake of waterlilies located in Afghanistan. For six years he worked to realize this dream, and in 1974 traveled to Bamiyan, Afghanistan—the former site of the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas, which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001—where he placed 12 holographic plates of waterlilies in six pits along a 1.5-mile axis on the floor of the Valley of Kushkak. Each plate was set at a 12- degree angle, creating one of the eight aspects of the “Inclined Galactic Light Pond.” Vision Portal: Lotus, 1966–1970/2002–2007, one of the four paintings in Forum 61: Lowry Burgess, is a manifestation of this dream. 

Another vision, which Burgess had while in Afghanistan, is depicted in the painting Vision Portal: Rose, 1966–1970/2002–2007, also on view in Forum 61. In the dream Burgess saw a rose-like scarlet axis entering the Earth from the Pacific Ocean—opposite from Afghanistan. The painting is connected to the “Utopic Vessel,” another aspect of Quiet Axis, which in 1978 was released into the bottom of the Pacific Ocean near Easter Island, exactly opposite the globe from Afghanistan. When releasing “Utopic Vessel” into the ocean, Burgess imagined the drops ascending into the atmosphere and re-entering the earth in Yellow Springs, Pennsylvania, at the Diamond Spring. This image inspired Burgess to broadcast the sound of the spring’s flowing water to the Moon. When the sound waves bounced back to the Earth, they were captured via radio telescope, and Burgess turned them into holograms.

Vision Portal: Lily, 1966–1970/2002–2007, also on view in Forum 61, with its deep red seed at the center, refers to the sixth major aspect of Quiet Axis, the “Seeds of the Infinite Absolute.” Two metal seeds were filled with an emulsion of the essences of 44 trees, 52 flowers, 36 waters, 32 bloods, and 120 hopes. In July of this year, Burgess traveled to Greece, where he placed one seed on top of the Taygetos mountains (elevation 8,000 feet) and released the second seed into the 20,000-foot Calypso Deep, where the African tectonic plate slips under the European Plate.

The final painting of the exhibition, Vision Portal: Crocus, 1966–1970/2002–2007, represents another aspect of Quiet Axis, “Memory Forms of the Unmanifest,” which distills Burgess’ original vision of 1967 from a vast set of entranced visions and texts.

Lowry Burgess
American, b. 1940;
Vision Portal: Lotus, 1966–1970/2002–2007
oil on canvas;
Courtesy of the artist

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