MEANING IN ART: Can You Spot The Difference: Unpacking Subtle with Rose Olson's Doubles

Moving Mists, Rose Olson, 2011
acrylic on baltic birch, diptych 12 x 26 x 3

There are many lenses through which to look at art: there's the analysis of art historical precedents; the microscopic deciphering of symbolism and iconography; rote speculation on contemporary influences; and (among many others) the strict compare and contrast with other artists in the world, region or even between artists within the gallery.  But a particularly interesting lense is to view the artwork side by side its brethren, works by the same artist, of the same mode, media, scale and application, and to find the difference between them and the story therein.

Installation view, Kingston Gallery
I curated Rose Olson's new exhibition of small paintings at Kingston Gallery this December, called Doubles.  Its premise of seeing the separations and commonalities between works in a series isn't rare at all (who didn't have to do the compare and contrast essays in the back of their high school classical lit courses?), but the method of viewing an exhibition not as individual works but as unions of individual works can engage the viewer in an active way.

As a common descriptor in the art-world, 'subtlety' is applied to many artworks, yet is seldom unpacked as a term and so we run the risk of glazing over at its mention and subsequently glazing over its power as a visual mechanism.  The 'sub' in subtle refers to its hidden characteristics, what lies underneath a surface is sometimes not loud enough to draw attention to itself, but relies on (or at least entrusts) the viewer to use close scrutiny over nuance and discover for themselves the differences within.

Most of us are familiar with the game of hidden differences, the Hidden Pictures segment for Highlights for Children or the entire Spot the Difference genre for example.  We know how aggravating and thrilling these games are, and I've rarely looked into a series of works with the specific task of separating details into like and dislike categories.  I should note here that only two out of the twelve works in Olson's exhibition belong together in a diptych - the other ten works are individuals that cohese together and prompt us into further analysis. 

I hope the viewer is reminded of the power of subtlety, the lense of compare and contrast and that childlike and wonder-filled response to the bodies of akin but not identical works of art.  Happy hunting.

Installation view, Kingston Gallery
Rose Olson's exhibition opens this Friday, December 2nd 5 - 8 pm at Kingston Gallery alongside Jennifer Moses' Roswell: New Works