Tony DeLap is a Southern California-based artist who was a key figure in West Coast minimalism and Op Art of the 1960s and ’70s. He has also been a prominent player in several other art movements, including “finish/fetish,” hard-edge painting, the California Light and Space movement and site-specific installation.
Now 90, DeLap has been creating boundary-bending hybrids of painting and sculpture since the 1960s. Through May 28, Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach, California, is presenting “Tony DeLap: A Retrospective,” curated by art critic and independent curator Peter Frank. The exhibition features more than 80 paintings, sculptures and drawings, including Joseph Cornell-like boxed assemblages from the early 1960s that have not been exhibited for years.
Other works, such as his double-sided word-play hybrids “Mona Lisa,” 1962, “Ping Pong,” 1962, “Flip Flop,” 1963, and “Hard Edge,” 1963, are signature pieces that have been shown several times before, including retrospectives at the Orange County Museum of Art in 2000-’01 and the Oceanside Museum of Art in 2013. The word-play hybrids are amusing and no less effective here.
DeLap — a Corona del Mar resident for 53 years — likes to play with the concept of an artwork’s edge, exploring the juncture where painting and sculpture intersect. His many monochrome pieces, primarily made of acrylic, wood and canvas, echo the New York artist Ellsworth Kelly, except for an unusual curve or a missing piece here or there. Some resemble puzzles with the missing chunks left to the imagination. The Mobius Strip is a motif the artist explores more than a few times.
Other works reflect his interests in minimalism and “finish/fetish,” and can be compared to contemporaries Larry Bell, Craig Kauffman or DeWain Valentine.
More than five dozen drawings on paper reveal DeLap’s early thought processes, demonstrating that his sculpture-painting hybrids have been carefully conceived, with imperfections and inconsistencies meticulously culled out.
Two series of prints in the second-floor galleries, “Hands and Stick Portfolio,” 1974/1991, and “The Floating Lady Portfolio,” 1984, as well as the sculpture “Mahatma,” 1981, embody DeLap’s long-held interest in magic. The artist enjoys playing with illusion and making his artworks appear to float or otherwise defy explanation.
Indeed, “Floating Lady II,” 1970/2017, is a recently updated version of his attempt to make heavy objects seem suspended in mid-air, this time using wood, glass and metal.
Frank, the curator, wrote an insightful essay for the handsome, 280-page blue-covered catalog, which is itself a work of art. The front and back jacket designs were inspired by DeLap’s works “Queen Zozer,” 1964-’68, and “Flip Flop,” both included in the exhibition.
Except for titles and identification of materials used, there’s hardly any text in the didactics, which is a refreshing change from the typical museum encounter. The verbal sparseness and lack of lengthy background explanations make the viewer focus on the work, not the words.
In the main, ground-floor gallery, a metal wire hovering just below the ceiling connects one work made of wood (“The Great Escape,” 1972) with another at the opposite end made of mixed media. The two pieces are exactly the same weight, according to the artist.
Kudos should be given to the museum staff, the curator, the gallerist Christopher Heijnen and the artist himself for the design of the exhibition. They all worked together carefully to space out the pieces and make the experience of walking through the show itself a work of art.