PULLMAN, Wash.  The Washington State University Museum of Art will exhibit “3 Degrees of Cool,” from Jan. 6 through Feb. 29.  The exhibit is a wide-ranging grouping of 88 contemporary works of art dated 1948-2002 by 23 internationally acclaimed artists. There will be an opening reception with a Cool Jazz performance on Jan.15 at 7 p.m.

“Anyone who is even moderately interested in modern art should not miss this exhibition,” said Anna-Maria Shannon, assistant director of the museum.

The majority of the artwork in “3 Degrees of Cool” comes from the extensive collection of Virginia and Bagley Wright of Seattle and includes several recent acquisitions, notably, David Hammons’ “High Degree of Cat,” Damien Hirst’s “Beautiful Christmas Morning Constellation” and Andy Warhol’s “Diamond Dust Shoes.”

“Very rarely is it possible to view artwork by world-renowned artists of this caliber outside of major art centers such as London, New York or San Francisco,” Shannon said. “It’s even more of a rarity to have an entire exhibit from an internationally respected collection in a community as small as Pullman.”

Also included in the exhibit are artworks from the collections of Oliver Cobb and Mark Groudine, both of Seattle, and the Washington Art Consortium collection that was founded by Virginia Wright in 1975.  The pieces contributed from the consortium are by such well known artists as Alex Katz, Larry Poons, Agnes Martin, Richard Serra, Cy Twombly and Warhol.So, what is cool artwork? Chris Bruce, director of the Museum of Art at WSU and curator of the show, said the exhibit portrays cool as “an attitude of confident diffidence…art that expresses a kind of impassive dignity that hardly cares whether the viewer gets it or not…work that lays itself out there, and then walks away, so to speak.” 

This concept is reinforced by the absence of wall text or labels. Although there is an area of the museum that houses information about the pieces and artists, individual artworks do not receive specific labels in the gallery. The exhibit is presented in a manner to promote visual stimulation  uninterrupted viewing experience, void of written text containing historical style, medium or time frame. The hope is for the viewer to be enticed by the immediate aesthetic experience to then spend extra time and effort in further investigation, Bruce said.

Bruce chose the artworks for this exhibit using the concept of cool as a filter for distinguishing certain artworks that show characteristics of one or another ideas of something cool. Although cool is a highly subjective term, most would agree certain words such as composed, collected, detached, confident and nonchalant would be a good start describing the concept.  “What I was looking for is, for example, closer to the cool of Miles Davis’ music  passionate and efficient,” he said. “This is not intended to be a didactic illustration of a curatorial concept, but rather an opportunity to find a certain kind of hum between wonderful works of art.”

From the contemporary artworks of Alex Katz and Julian Schnabel, to refined Minimalist paintings and sculptures, to Pop artist Andy Warhol’s brilliant colors and British conceptual artist Damien Hirst and German painter Gerhard Richter’s abstractions  “3 Degrees of Cool” successfully cuts through historical periods and across cultural boundaries.  No matter what your idea of cool might be there is something for everyone in this exhibit, Bruce said. 

The exhibit has received excellent reviews from art critics.  Regina Hackett, a critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said “the art is its own context, and the success of this show (aside from the many luminaries in the lineup) is the savvy way it’s hung, allowing paintings and sculptures to converse across space. Pound for pound and inch for inch, if there is a better exhibit in Seattle, I haven’t seen it.”   

Exhibition artists include Peter Alexander, Larry Bell, Mary Corse, Jim Dine, Robert Frank, Robert Gober, Hammons, Hirst, Katz, Martin, John McCracken, Barnett Newman, Jules Olitski, Poons, Richter, Susan Rothenberg, Ed Ruscha, Robert Ryman, Julian Schnabel, Serra, Twombly, Warhol and William Wood

Funding for the museum exhibitions and programs for the fiscal year is provided by WSU, the Friends of the Museum of Art, the WSU Foundation, Washington State Arts Commission, Samuel H. and Patricia W. Smith Arts Endowment, the Museum of Art/WSU Directors Fund for Excellence and private donors.  Visit the WSU Museum of Art Web site at www.wsu.edu/artmuse.