Reviews, quotes on THE BODY OF A HOUSE
But for me, what makes the series so valuable and fresh is that the paintings are a powerful metaphor for the dissolution of the self: how confronting immense power (terror/"the nuclear sublime"/powerful genies of our own creation) erases our defenses and smug assumptions and brings us up against our littleness in the scale of things, and our mortality.
Much "cutting Edge" art draws our attention to the artist and his/her cleverness, displaying a kind of hip irony toward the whole process of creating and displaying artworks. But Beckmann has chosen to render these images in a quite "classical" manner, purposely not "cutting edge", to bring us back to the subject of the painting, and the poetry of it. We don't therefore, have to see the reality of these paintings through some "Beckmann" artist persona: it's just there for us-coolly its own thing, veiled a little by the modulation of the red tones throughout the series, but finally ours, the viewers', without any voice-over from the artist, no "attitude" we have to negotiate to get to the heart of the thing. And for once these is a heart instead of a slogan.
- Robert H. Abel, novelist, winner of the 1991 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, February 2, 1994
Beckmann's timely work (he has used atomic themes since 1990) can make you think of Gerhard Richter, the Richter scale, deconstruction, or nuclear experiments. "The Body of a House" -a collapsing image in the process of conversion from matter to energy- is a documentary and multivalent metaphor.
- Kim Levin, The Village Voice, the week of February 22, 1994 (Voice Choices)
It's a simple enough idea, basing art on a couple seconds of film from 1953, in which a nuclear explosion blows away a mock-up of a family home. But Robert Beckmann's "The Body of a House" brings a new and quite disturbing weight to this visual icon of the '50s and '60s. His eight paintings give off a weird sense of detachment, combining precise shifts in orangish-red hues with a paradoxically meticulous portrayal of destruction and chaos.
- Julie Caniglia, City Pages, Minneapolis, MN. July 12, 1995
Beckmann is making a comment on the fragility of the human situation and society as a whole in which a "home" is a symbol of stability.
Kerry Mills, V Magazine, Roanoke, VA, December 1995
I believe that this series of paintings represents one of the most significant works of art to have come out of Nevada in many years... Viewed simply from a technical standpoint, Robert Beckmann's paintings of a house in successive stages of destruction during the atomic test at Yucca Flats in 1953, are masterfully done....."The Body of a House" series offers us a unique opportunity to transform the horrific atomic legacy that we have inherited, both as Nevadans and as human inhabitants of a modern dangerous world, into an opportunity for healing and growth, both personally and socially.
Turkey Stremmel, Stremmel Gallery, Reno, NV, August 27, 1995
The canvases themselves are hypnotic, even menacing. Keeping true to the footage of the film with remarkable photo-realism, Beckmann amplified the images with a luminous palette shading from fiery oranges to the deep rusty reds of coagulated blood...The large size of the canvases and their spacing forces the viewer to examine that 2 1/3 second moment over a matter of minutes, as the house is stripped of its outer shell and then torn from the foundation. As Beckmann contemplated that moment, so must the viewer, and join Beckmann in considering the implications of unleashing such a power on the world. Rather than simply reproducing the frames, he enhanced and focused the details, burning them into the viewer's retina.
- Michael Eilers, Arizona Daily Wildcat, Tucson, February 8, 1996
These paintings tell us what we are capable of as human beings...."The Body of a House" should not be missed, because it reminds us that in destroying the world, we destroy our own humanity.
Pamela Portwood, Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, February 9, 1996
We did indeed see and very much enjoy your series "The Body of a House" during a visit to the Anderson Gallery (Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond) in October...We are delighted to know that you plan to take your series "Secular Light" to St. Petersburg, Russia.
- Susan Stirn, Director, Arts America, United States Information Agency
Washington DC, March 25, 1996
Europeans often assume that American art is superficial and shallow. Robert Beckmann, a noted American artist, whose work is exhibited in St. Petersburg from July 12th at the State Museum of City Sculpture, opens for us another side of American art...
In terms of the vigor of an impact I would compare this work with "Apocalypse Now" by Francis Ford Coppola.
- Zinaida Arsenieva, Chas Pik, daily newspaper, St. Petersburg, Russia,
July 11, 1996
They are of course very potent images simply because of the story they tell. However, they are also extraordinary paintings in many other ways. As a series and individually they are evocative and enticing images. Their lush vibrancy is visually pleasing--even beautiful. At the same time, Beckmann has painted the house in its various stages of detonation in an eerie, surreal manner, which makes the viewer a bit uncomfortable. I was astounded with their power and excellent craftsmanship--something that cannot be understood from reproductions or slides.
- Terry Gips, Director, The Art Gallery, University of Maryland at College Park, August 27, 1996
The emotions given the time provided by eight paintings, run deep indeed compared to any sparked by a blur of film. I lived with this exhibition for six weeks while it was here several months ago and watched "The House" do its haunting, troubling, and beautiful thing to a few thousand visitors including a post-"Atomic Cafe" generation of students who weren't so sure about the actual source. It's damn good painting by most standards and a very effective piece of communication on any level.
Peter Bermingham, Director, and Chief Curator, Museum of Art, University of Arizona, Tucson, September 20, 1996
The most startling project is "the Body of a House"...The series does two things: it brings back all the strangeness of that era; the fear, the bomb shelter craze, the air raid drills. But it also takes watching the film of the blast effects, an experience that would most likely be ephemeral and have a high gee-whiz factor, and forces viewers to confront the whole process more deeply, to look at the house, to think of it as a real house, not just a test structure. The whole sense of the devastation of atomic weapons becomes more immediate.
John Boylan, Art Critic, Eastside Journal, Bellevue, WA, March 19, 1997
What seems cool, scientific and matter-of-fact in the government documentaries is translated by the artist into an apocalyptic sequence that brings the nuclear event up close and personal -- and inescapable.
Joanne Milani, Gallery Glimpses, Tampa Tribune, Tampa, FLA, July 18, 1997
Beckmann did a good job of heightening the effect of the film...His palette, the shade of uncongealed blood, slowly darkens as the house ignites from the heat and radiation. The colors, the melting shapes, slam at your eyes.
- Joan Altabe, Art Critic, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, FLA, July 18, 1997
Part of the psychological tension of the paintings is in the dislocation of historical sequential time with the personal physical time required to absorb them. Once the observer has understood their content, the color, form and organization of the paintings become the prime interest...Beckmann addresses a dark subject, but the paintings as painting, transcend their subject and in doing so present the observer with an intriguing dilemma. When a painter centers on a disturbing, even ugly subject for his art, can the physical beauty of the paintings become a separate issue to that of the content...or are they irreducibly one and the same? With Beckmann, I think they are inseparable emotions and, in being so, compelling in both ways.
- Kevin Costello, Art Beat, Pelican Press, Sarasota, FLA, July 31, 1997
Beckmann's series documents the building's progressive destruction. The house looks eerily still; it smolders, it swells, it explodes into a splintering miasma of indistinguishable form. Ultimately, the house becomes visual sludge - an apt metaphor for the radioactive sludge that continues to overheat tank C-106 at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation...Despite the fact that "The Body of a House" depicts the total act of oblivion, one is in awe of the power behind the blast, relishing the luxuriant hues of crimson and red found in the paintings, yet witnessing obliteration.
- Cheryl H. Hahn, review of "Nuclear Cities", Art Papers, July - August, 1997
Outside of town -- out there somewhere near nowhere -- they tested the instruments of ultimate destruction. In coolly drawn, ominous monochromes, Robert Beckmann charts the deadly flirtation with the final solution, recreating our society's not-so-carefully-controlled simulation of doomsday. Frighteningly serene, his paintings contemplate the attraction of the apocalypse with a nearly religious conviction. Ending it all is a secular revelation, a unifying event, a moment when we live only for today.
- Michael Duncan, LA Contributing Editor, Art in America, catalog for "Four Way Stop", UNLV, February 9, 1998