Exhibit celebrates art form that defies meaning

MADI art was created in the 1940s by an Argentinian whose goal was geometric art that doesn't signify anything but art for its own sake.

Published July 7, 2006

Moseying through "A Celebration of Geometric Art," which opens Sunday at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, is somewhat like going through a house of mirrors.

With every step, the appearance actually changes of the three-dimensional forms on the walls or those slowly turning on pedestals or tables. Some have parts that flop down or languidly open. Others, reflected in the mirrors upon which they are mounted, take on a completely new look, like colored glass seen through a kaleidoscope.

But don't look for meaning in any of the forms.

This is MADI art, which is created and exists for its own sake, and that's that.

MADI - nobody seems to know what the letters stand for or mean - was started in the mid 1940s by Argentine artist Arden Quin, who has several works in this exhibit. His goal was geometric work that "does not express... does not represent... does not signify." From two-dimensional art to three-dimensional MADI art, to MADI architecture, music, poetry, theater, novels, stories and dance, MADI has form, but not a form that is connected to anything else. (Think Stephen Halpern's free-form music.) It is whimsical, often childlike, naive and interesting, but not necessarily thought-provoking.

The abstract, cut-out shapes are simply there.

To be sure, some of the work was inspired by solid objects.

"From 1958 to 1960, my work was inspired by (choreographer George) Balanchine," said Volf Roitman, a MADI artist and collector whose work fills the front gallery for this exhibit and whose personal collection of other MADI artists' works helps fill the rear gallery. Indeed, some of his cut-out metal forms seem to dance, moving gracefully or quickly, depending on the movement around them.

Roitman and his wife, writer Shelley Goodman, split their time between homes in Holiday and a small village in Ireland. They helped put the current exhibit together.

Roitman, who was born in Uruguay in 1930, became part of the MADI movement after he moved to Paris and met Quin. Until (and since) then, Roitman had been an architect, poet, magazine editor, novelist, theater and movie producer. In fact, excerpts from his surrealistic play, THATSWACHUTHINCK!, will be read by Diana Forgione's Avenue Players Theatre during the opening reception from 8 to 10 p.m. Saturday.

On Sunday, Roitman will lead a gallery walk through the new exhibit at 2 p.m. and talk about his work and that of the other MADI artists whose work is in the show, including Quin, Hungarian artist Eva Maria Banyasz, Colombian artist William Barbosa, Italian artists Saverio Cecere, Gianfranco Nicolato, Piergiorgio Zangara, Lorenzo Piemonti, Gaetano Pinna, Salvador Presta, Reale F. Frangi and Mirella Forlivesi, Argentine artist Guillermo Gregorio, Venezuelan artists Ines Silva and Octavio Herrera, and Dutch artist Fre Ilgen.

One of Roitman's favorite subjects is the MADI art museum he designed for Dallas attorney Bill Masterson, whose firm commissioned Roitman to turn its architecturally uninteresting Kilgore Law Center building into a giant example of cut-out MADI art on the exterior and a museum on the first floor. Roitman provided the abstract, three-dimensional designs, and a computer guided a laser to cut through the metal sheets that were turned into MADI designs three stories tall.

A large photo of the museum is on the wall of the Leepa-Rattner front gallery.

"You give me the ugliest building in any place, and I will turn it into a work of art," Roitman said. "Find me the worst street of a neighborhood, and I will transform it into a work of art," using MADI art and color.

"My strongest dream is to be able to build something like (the Kilgore museum) around here that will become an icon of Pasco," he said. "There will be nothing like this in the whole world."

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Ms. Goodman will talk about her new biography of Quin, when art jumped OUT of its cage, and sign copies of the 400-page book, which has numerous examples of MADI art and scores of photographs of the many artists involved in the movement.

If you go

WHAT: "A Celebration of Geometric Art"

WHERE: Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, 600 Klosterman Road, Tarpon Springs (on the St. Petersburg College campus a half mile west of U.S. 19)

WHEN: Reception for opening is 8 to 10 p.m. Saturday. A gallery walk with MADI artist Volf Roitman is at 2 p.m. Sunday.

The exhibit begins Sunday and continues through Aug. 20. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays; and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays.

TICKETS: The reception is $10 for nonmembers, free for members. Museum admission is $5 adults, $4 seniors, and free to children and students with identification. Sundays are free to everyone.