Posts Tagged ‘American abstract painting

20
Apr
11

Exhibition: ‘Abstract Expressionist New York: The Big Picture’ at The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York

Exhibition dates: October 3rd 2010 – April 25th 2011

 

Mark Rothko (American, born Latvia. 1903-1970) 'Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea' 1944

 

Mark Rothko (American, born Latvia. 1903-1970)
Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea
1944
Oil on canvas
6′ 3 3/8″ x 7′ 3/4″ (191.4 x 215.2 cm)
Bequest of Mrs. Mark Rothko through The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc.
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea pictures two creatures dancing between sea and sky, surrounded by arabesques, spirals, and stripes. The forms “have no direct association with any particular visible experience, but in them one recognizes the principle and passion of organisms,” Rothko said. For him art was “an adventure into an unknown world”; like the Surrealists before him, Rothko looked inward, to his own unconscious mind, for inspiration and material for his work.

Gallery label from Abstract Expressionist New York, October 3, 2010-April 25, 2011

 

 

What a privilege to post all of these works together.

Aaron Siskind has to be one of my favourite photographers of all time (and space). His Martha’s Vineyard (see photograph below), like most of his work, is superb: the abstraction and counterpose are magnificent. Team this with a couple of Rothko, a Motherwell, a de Kooning and a knockout of a Hartigan and you certainly have the start of ‘The Big Picture’. I wish I could have been there to see this exhibition – sigh!

Marcus

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Many thankx to The Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition, "Abstract Expressionist New York: Rock Paper Scissors"

 

Installation view of the exhibition, Abstract Expressionist New York: Rock Paper Scissors at MoMA, New York October 3, 2010 – February 28, 2011. Photograph by Thomas Griesel

 

Jackson Pollock (American, 1912-1956) 'The She-Wolf' 1943

 

Jackson Pollock (American, 1912-1956)
The She-Wolf
1943
Oil, gouache, and plaster on canvas
41 7/8 x 67″ (106.4 x 170.2 cm)
Purchase
© 2010 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

In the early 1940s Pollock, like many of his peers, explored primeval or mythological themes in his work. The wolf in this painting may allude to the animal that suckled the twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, in the myth of the city’s birth. But “She-Wolf came into existence because I had to paint it,” Pollock said in 1944. In an attitude typical of his generation, he added, “Any attempt on my part to say something about it, to attempt explanation of the inexplicable, could only destroy it.” The She-Wolf was featured in Pollock’s first solo exhibition, at Art of This Century gallery in New York in 1943. MoMA acquired the painting the following year, making it the first work by Pollock to enter a museum collection.

Gallery label from Abstract Expressionist New York, October 3, 2010-April 25, 2011

 

Installation view of the exhibition, "Abstract Expressionist New York: Rock Paper Scissors"

 

Installation view of the exhibition, Abstract Expressionist New York: Rock Paper Scissors at MoMA, New York October 3, 2010 – February 28, 2011 showing at right, Jackson Pollock’s painting Number 1A, 1948. Photograph by Thomas Griesel

 

Jackson Pollock (American, 1912-1956) 'Number 1A, 1948' 1948

 

Jackson Pollock (American, 1912-1956)
Number 1A, 1948
1948
Oil and enamel paint on canvas
68″ x 8′ 8″ (172.7 x 264.2 cm)
Purchase
© 2010 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

While the style of “drip” painting has become synonymous with the name Jackson Pollock, here the artist has autographed the work even more directly, with several handprints found at the composition’s upper right. Around this time Pollock stopped giving his paintings evocative titles and began instead to number them. His wife, artist Lee Krasner, later explained, “Numbers are neutral. They make people look at a painting for what it is – pure painting.” Collectors did not immediately appreciate Pollock’s radical new style, and when first exhibited, in 1949 (then titled Number 1, 1948), this painting remained unsold. Later that year the work was shown again in the artist’s second solo exhibition (Pollock added “A” to the title to avoid confusion with more recent work) and shortly thereafter was purchased by MoMA.

Gallery label from Abstract Expressionist New York, October 3, 2010-April 25, 2011

 

Bradley Walker Tomlin (American, 1899-1953) 'Number 20' 1949

 

Bradley Walker Tomlin (American, 1899-1953)
Number 20
1949
Oil on canvas
7′ 2″ x 6′ 8 1/4″ (218.5 x 203.9 cm)
Gift of Philip Johnson

 

 

Although some of the ribbons and bars that animate Number 20 are recognisable letters of the alphabet (E, X, or Z) these and their more abstract neighbours evoke calligraphy without constituting it. A critic described these symbols as “hieroglyphs that lack only the appropriate Rosetta Stone for their deciphering.” Tomlin distributed his nonobjective imagery evenly on the canvas, depriving the work of a traditional focal point and creating a staccato rhythm and allover design that invites the viewer’s glance to travel across its surface.

Gallery label from Abstract Expressionist New York, October 3, 2010-April 25, 2011

 

Installation view of the exhibition, "Abstract Expressionist New York: Rock Paper Scissors"

 

Installation view of the exhibition, Abstract Expressionist New York: Rock Paper Scissors at MoMA, New York October 3, 2010 – February 28, 2011 showing at left, Barnett Newman’s painting Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950-51). Photograph by Thomas Griesel

 

Barnett Newman (American, 1905-1970) 'Vir Heroicus Sublimis' 1950-51

 

Barnett Newman (American, 1905-1970)
Vir Heroicus Sublimis
1950-51
Oil on canvas
7′ 11 3/8″ x 17′ 9 1/4″ (242.2 x 541.7 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Heller
© 2019 Barnett Newman Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Vir Heroicus Sublimis, Newman’s largest painting at the time of its completion, is meant to overwhelm the senses. Viewers may be inclined to step back from it to see it all at once, but Newman instructed precisely the opposite. When the painting was first exhibited, in 1951 at the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, Newman tacked to the wall a notice that read, “There is a tendency to look at large pictures from a distance. The large pictures in this exhibition are intended to be seen from a short distance.” Newman believed deeply in the spiritual potential of abstract art. The Latin title of this painting means “Man, heroic and sublime.”

Gallery label from Abstract Expressionist New York, October 3, 2010-April 25, 2011

 

Jack Tworkov (American, born Poland, 1900-1982). 'West 23rd' 1963

 

Jack Tworkov (American, born Poland, 1900-1982)
West 23rd
1963
Oil on canvas
60″ x 6′ 8″ (152.6 x 203.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase
© Estate of Jack Tworkov, courtesy Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York

 

Robert Motherwell (American, 1915-1991). 'Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 54' 1957-61

 

Robert Motherwell (American, 1915-1991)
Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 54
1957-61
Oil on canvas
70″ x 7′ 6 1/4″ (178 x 229 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Given anonymously
© Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

 

Installation view of the exhibition, "Abstract Expressionist New York: Rock Paper Scissors"

 

Installation view of the exhibition, Abstract Expressionist New York: Rock Paper Scissors at MoMA, New York October 3, 2010 – February 28, 2011 showing at left, David Smith’s sculpture Australia (1951). Photograph by Thomas Griesel

 

David Smith (American, 1906-1965). 'Australia' 1951

 

David Smith (American, 1906-1965)
Australia
1951
Painted steel
6′ 7 1/2″ x 8′ 11 7/8″ x 16 1/8″ (202 x 274 x 41 cm), on cinder block base, 17 1/2 x 16 3/4 x 15 1/4″ (44.5 x 42.5 x 38.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of William Rubin
© Estate of David Smith/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

 

 

At the time of its completion, Australia was Smith’s largest sculpture. By welding together thin rods and plates of steel he created a work that is simultaneously delicate and strong, a masterpiece of tension, balance, and form that he described as a “drawing in space.” Sculpture has traditionally been defined by volume and mass; Australia is, in contrast, built of lines. In what might be described as an allover sculpture, the linear activity is greatest at the perimeters, while the center is nearly empty. Because of its title, the work is sometimes read as an abstracted kangaroo, its lines capturing the spring of the animal’s leap.

Gallery label from Abstract Expressionist New York, October 3, 2010-April 25, 2011

 

Installation view of the exhibition, "Abstract Expressionist New York: Rock Paper Scissors"

 

Installation view of the exhibition, Abstract Expressionist New York: Rock Paper Scissors at MoMA, New York October 3, 2010 – February 28, 2011 showing a wall of photographs by Aaron Siskind, including at second right, Martha’s Vineyard (1954-59). Photograph by Thomas Griesel

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991). 'Martha's Vineyard' 1954-59

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
Martha’s Vineyard
1954-59
Gelatin silver print
12 7/16 x 16 1/2″ (31.6 x 41.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase
© 2010 Estate of Aaron Siskind

 

Adolph Gottlieb (American, 1903-1974) 'Man Looking at Woman' 1949

 

Adolph Gottlieb (American, 1903-1974)
Man Looking at Woman
1949
Oil on canvas
42 x 54″ (106.6 x 137.1 cm)
Gift of the artist
© Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

 

 

In the 1940s Gottlieb began to emulate the art of early Native American and Middle Eastern cultures, explorations that eventually inspired his Pictograph paintings, including Man Looking at Woman. This work and others like it feature hieroglyphic-like script distributed across the canvas in a series of gridded compartments. Gottlieb avoided using decipherable signs. In 1955 he said of these works, “I frequently hear the question, ‘What do these images mean?’ That is simply the wrong question. Visual images do not have to conform to either verbal thinking or optical facts. A better question would be: ‘Do these images convey any emotional truth?'”

Gallery label from Abstract Expressionist New York, October 3, 2010-April 25, 2011

 

Arshile Gorky (American, born Armenia, 1904-1948) 'Agony' 1947

 

Arshile Gorky (American, born Armenia, 1904-1948)
Agony
1947
Oil on canvas
40 x 50 1/2″ (101.6 x 128.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. A. Conger Goodyear Fund
© 2010 The Arshile Gorky Foundation / The Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

The evocative title of this work and the fiery intensity of the palette signal a departure from Gorky’s more lyrical abstractions of the preceding years. Agony, a blazing, impassioned scene, is often understood in relation to the traumatic events of the artist’s personal life, including a fire in his studio and cancer.

Gallery label from Abstract Expressionist New York, October 3, 2010-April 25, 2011

 

 

Subtitled The Big Picture, this installation of 100 Abstract Expressionist paintings and a rich selection of some 60 sculptures, drawings, prints, and photographs, occupies the entire fourth floor of the Museum and chronicles the era of Abstract Expressionism. The movement drew together a host of artists with greatly varying stylistic approaches, but with a common commitment to the power of an abstract art that could express personal convictions and profound human values.

Organised in a loose chronology, intermittently interrupted by monographic galleries that allow for the in-depth study of an individual artist’s practice, the installation opens with a selection of paintings and drawings that attest to the acutely self-conscious sense of new beginnings present in the work of individuals such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, they and their peers – not yet a cohesive group – created imagery that evoked primitive man or ancient myth, and conjured an aquatic or geological pre-human world.

Upon entering the galleries, visitors are greeted by Jackson Pollock’s The She-Wolf (1943), which was featured in the artist’s first solo exhibition, in 1943, and was the first work by Pollock to enter a museum collection when MoMA acquired it the following year. Made before Pollock developed his signature “drip” style, the canvas shows that a free-form abstraction and an unfettered play of materials were already parts of his process. Also on view is Mark Rothko’s Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea (1944), a canvas picturing two creatures floating between sea and sky, surrounded by arabesques, spirals, and stripes that betrays the influence of Surrealism on Rothko’s early work.

A monographic gallery devoted to the work of Barnett Newman includes Onement, I (1952), which the artist later identified as his breakthrough painting. Modest in size, it consists of a monochromatic background divided in half by a vertical band, or “zip” as the artist later called it. Every successive painting by Newman, as seen in the seven works in this gallery, features this particular compositional motif, although their formal and emotional differences are apparent. The scale and proportions of the paintings, as well as their palette and brushwork, vary from work to work, as do the number of zips and their location in the field of colour. At the other end of the spectrum from this relatively small canvas is Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950-51), an 18-foot-wide, vibrant red expanse that was Newman’s largest painting at the time of its creation.

The distinctive materials, techniques, and approaches developed and practiced by the Abstract Expressionists can be seen in a number of other works from the late 1940s and early 1950s. For Painting (1948), Willem de Kooning used oil and enamel sign paint to create a densely packed painting in which the paint drips, bleeds, congeals, or dissolves into delicate streaks. Lee Krasner’s Untitled (1949) shows that she applied thick paint – sometimes directly from the tube – in rhythmic and repetitive strokes, giving equal attention to every inch of the canvas and creating an allover composition. Bradley Walker Tomlin, in Number 20 (1949), and Adolph Gottlieb, in Man Looking at Woman (1949), distributed imagery evoking the alphabet and hieroglyphics evenly across their canvases.

A large gallery focusing on the work of Jackson Pollock includes Full Fathom Five (1947), one of earliest “drip” paintings, and Number 1A, 1948 (1948), the first drip painting to enter MoMA’s collection (in 1950). For One: Number 31, 1950 (1950), a masterpiece of the drip technique and one of Pollock’s largest paintings (8′ 10″ x 17′ 5 5/8″ [269.5 x 530.8 cm]), the artist laid the canvas on the floor of his studio and poured, dribbled, and flicked enamel paint onto the surface, sometimes straight from the can, or with sticks and stiffened brushes. The density of interlacing liquid threads of paint is balanced and offset by puddles of muted colours and by allover spattering.

Eight paintings made by Mark Rothko over a 14-year period are presented in a single gallery. The earliest examples from 1948, such as No. 1 (Untitled), feature variously sized abstract forms caught mid-motion as they shift on the canvas. Beginning in 1950, Rothko’s “classic” style forms as the artist creates a composition from horizontal planes of thinly layered paint and highly modulated colour, simplifying the compositional structure of his paintings and arriving at his signature style. No. 10 (1950) is divided horizontally into three dominant planes of blue, yellow, and white that softly and subtly bleed into one another. Acquired by MoMA in 1952, it was the first Rothko to enter the Museum’s collection, and was considered so radical that a trustee of the Museum resigned in protest.

MoMA’s practice of making in-depth acquisitions of work by artists that its curators judged to be of greatest importance was complemented by acquisitions of smaller numbers of works by other artist who played roles too significant to be forgotten. The Big Picture includes paintings and sculptures by more than 20 artists.

There is a gallery devoted to a selection of photographs made by individuals who used a camera to explore kindred artistic concerns – often resulting in work with striking stylistic similarities. Aaron Siskind may be the photographer most closely associated with Abstract Expressionism, and numerous works of his on display suggest the depth of this connection. Also featured in this installation is work by Harry Callahan, Robert Frank, Minor White, and others, revealing the variety of ways in which the sensibility or structure of paintings from this period manifested itself photographically.

The exhibition includes some 30 items from the MoMA Archives, documenting the relation of the Museum to Abstract Expressionism. Materials represent the institution’s influential series of “Americans” exhibitions, organised by Dorothy C. Miller, which included several Abstract Expressionist artists in four of its iterations. In addition, documentation regarding the internationally circulating New American Painting show (also organised by Miller) is presented. This important exhibition travelled to eight European cities in 1958-59 and propelled the homegrown Abstract Expressionist movement onto the international art scene. A third section includes photographs of artists and their own statements and letters. Highlights include: exhibition catalogues, installation photographs, news clippings, and ephemera; photographs of artists in the studio with their artworks; a letter from Robert Motherwell to Miller describing the four themes of his art (automatic means, pure abstractions, political or a kind of “disasters” series, and intimate pictures), a letter from Ad Reinhardt to Miller recommending a different installation of his paintings, and a statement by Grace Hartigan identifying her subject as the “vulgar and vital in American life, and the possibilities of its transcendence into the beautiful.”

Text from the Museum of Modern Art press release

 

Installation view of the exhibition, "Abstract Expressionist New York: Rock Paper Scissors"

 

Installation view of the exhibition, Abstract Expressionist New York: Rock Paper Scissors at MoMA, New York October 3, 2010 – February 28, 2011 showing a wall of the photographs of Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019). Photograph by Thomas Griesel

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Paris' 1952

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
Paris
1952
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'Mississippi, St Louis' 1948

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
Mississippi, St Louis
1948
Gelatin silver print

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019) 'New York' c. 1949

 

Robert Frank (Swiss-American, 1924-2019)
New York
c. 1949
Gelatin silver print

 

Ibram Lassaw (American, born Egypt. 1913-2003). 'Kwannon' 1952

 

Ibram Lassaw (American, born Egypt. 1913-2003)
Kwannon
1952
Welded bronze
6′ 1/2″ x 43″ x 29″ (184.2 x 109.2 x 73.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Katharine Cornell Fund
© 2010 Denise Lassaw/Ibram Lassaw studio

 

 

This sculpture represents Kwannon (also known as Kannon), the Buddhist goddess of mercy and an attendant of Buddha. Lassaw thickened steel wire with molten bronze, creating an openwork metal scaffolding of irregular lines and voids – what he called a “drawing in space.” Lassaw wrote of this abstract figure, “Although I never try to depict or narrate or communicate, I feel that something of Kwannon entered this piece of sculpture.”

Gallery label from Abstract Expressionist New York, October 3, 2010-April 25, 2011

 

Willem de Kooning (American, born The Netherlands, 1904-1997). 'Woman, I' 1950-52

 

Willem de Kooning (American, born The Netherlands, 1904-1997)
Woman, I
1950-52
Oil on canvas
6′ 3 7/8″ x 58″ (192.7 x 147.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase.
© 2010 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

De Kooning famously said, “Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented,” and although he often worked in an abstract style he continually returned to the figure. Woman I took an unusually long time to complete. De Kooning made numerous preliminary studies then repainted the canvas repeatedly, eventually arriving at this hulking, wild-eyed figure of a woman. An amalgam of female archetypes, from a Paleolithic fertility goddess to a 1950s pinup girl, her threatening gaze and ferocious grin are heightened by de Kooning’s aggressive brushwork and intensely coloured palette.

Gallery label from Abstract Expressionist New York, October 3, 2010-April 25, 2011

 

Grace Hartigan (American, 1922-2008). 'Shinnecock Canal' 1957

 

Grace Hartigan (American, 1922-2008)
Shinnecock Canal
1957
Oil on canvas
7′ 6 1/2″ x 6′ 4″ (229.8 x 193 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of James Thrall Soby
© 2010 The Estate of Grace Hartigan

 

Louise Nevelson (American, born Ukraine. 1899 -1988). 'Sky Cathedral' 1958

 

Louise Nevelson (American, born Ukraine. 1899-1988)
Sky Cathedral
1958
Painted wood
11′ 3 1/2″ x 10’ 1/4″ x 18” (343.9 x 305.4 x 45.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Mildwoff
© 2010 Estate of Louise Nevelson/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Sky Cathedral. 1958 | MODERN ART & IDEAS

 

Hans Hofmann (American, born Germany, 1880-1966). 'Memoria in Aeternum' 1962

 

Hans Hofmann (American, born Germany, 1880-1966)
Memoria in Aeternum
1962
Oil on canvas
7′ x 6′ 1/8″ (213.3 x 183.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist
© 2010 Renate, Hans & Maria Hofmann Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

In Memoria in Aeturnum (Eternal memory) Hofmann remembers five American painters who died in their prime: Arthur B. Carles, an early American Cubist, and four abstract painters whose work is on display in this exhibition – Arshile Gorky, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, and Bradley Walker Tomlin. Painted near the end of his life, Hofmann’s work is a tribute to the preceding decades of abstract art, incorporating a wide range of techniques that evoke the spirits of the departed: stains, drips, drawn-out brushstrokes, and smooth-edged geometric forms.

Gallery label from Abstract Expressionist New York, October 3, 2010-April 25, 2011

 

Installation view of the exhibition, "Abstract Expressionist New York: Rock Paper Scissors"

 

Installation view of the exhibition, Abstract Expressionist New York: Rock Paper Scissors at MoMA, New York October 3, 2010 – February 28, 2011 showing at right, MarRothko’s painting No. 5 / No. 22 (1950). Photograph by Thomas Griesel

 

Mark Rothko (American, born Latvia. 1903-1970). 'No. 5/No. 22' 1950

 

Mark Rothko (American, born Latvia. 1903-1970)
No. 5 / No. 22
1950
Oil on canvas
9′ 9″ x 8′ 11 1/8″ (297 x 272 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist.
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Mark Rothko (American, born Latvia. 1903-1970). 'No. 3/No. 13' 1949

 

Mark Rothko (American, born Latvia. 1903-1970)
No. 3 / No. 13
1949
Oil on canvas
7′ 1 3/8″ x 65″ (216.5 x 164.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Bequest of Mrs. Mark Rothko through The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc.
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

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18
Mar
10

Exhibition: ‘Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction’ at The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

Exhibition dates: 6th February – 9th May 2010

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Grey Blue & Black - Pink Circle' 1929

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Grey Blue & Black – Pink Circle
1929
Oil on canvas
36 x 48 in. (91.4 x 121.9 cm)
Dallas Museum of Art
Gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation

 

 

Many thankx to Shira Pinsker and The Phillips Collection for allowing me to reproduce the images in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

For an excellent analysis of the convergences between Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams see Geneva Anderson’s review Masters of the Southwest: Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams Natural Affinities.

Marcus

 

 

“It is surprising to me to see how many people separate the objective from the abstract. Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and colours put together so that they say something. For me that is the very basis of painting. The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint.”

“I long ago came to the conclusion that even if I could put down accurately the thing that I saw and enjoyed, it would not give the observer the kind of feeling it gave me. I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at – not copy it.”

.
Georgia O’Keeffe, 1976

 

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Flower Abstraction' 1924

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Flower Abstraction
1924
Oil on canvas
48 x 30 in.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
50th Anniversary Gift of Sandra Payson
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. IV' 1930

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. IV
1930
Oil on canvas
40 x 30 in.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Alfred Stieglitz Collection, Bequest of Georgia O’Keeffe
Image courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington

 

 

Wall text from the exhibition

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) is fixed in the public imagination as a painter of places and things. She has long been recognised for her still lifes of flowers, leaves, animal bones and shells, her images of Manhattan skyscrapers, and her Lake George and New Mexico landscapes. Yet it was with abstraction that O’Keeffe entered the art world and first became celebrated as an artist. In the spring of 1916, she burst onto the New York art scene with a group of abstract charcoal drawings that were among the most radical works produced in the United States in the early twentieth century. As she expanded her repertoire in the years that followed to include watercolour and oil, she retained the fluid space and dynamic, organic motifs of these early charcoals.

Abstraction dominated O’Keeffe’s output in the early part of her career and remained a fundamental language for her thereafter. Some of her abstractions have no recognisable source in the natural world; others distill visible reality into elemental, simplified forms. For O’Keeffe, abstraction offered a way to portray what she called the “unknown” – intense thoughts and feelings she could not express in words and did not rationally understand. Her abstractions recorded an array of emotions and responses to people and places. At the heart of her practice was an affinity for the flux and sinuous rhythms of nature. Through swelling forms and sumptuous colour, O’Keeffe depicted the experience of being in nature – so enveloped by its sublime mystery and beauty that awareness of all else is suspended.

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Early Abstraction' 1915

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Early Abstraction
1915
Charcoal on paper
24 x 18 5/8 in. (61 x 47.3 cm)
Milwaukee Art Museum
Gift of Jane Bradley Pettit Foundation and The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation
Photography by Malcolm Varon
© Milwaukee Art Museum

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Blue II' 1916

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Blue II
1916
Watercolour on paper
27 7/8 x 22 1/4 in. (70.8 x 56.5 cm)
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Gift, The Burnett Foundation
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Untitled (Abstraction/Portrait of Paul Strand)' 1917

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Untitled (Abstraction/Portrait of Paul Strand)
1917
Watercolour on paper
12 x 8 7/8 in. (30.5 x 22.5 cm)
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Gift, The Burnett Foundation
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

The artistic achievement of Georgia O’Keeffe is examined from a fresh perspective in Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction, a landmark exhibition debuting this winter at The Phillips Collection. While O’Keeffe (1887-1986) has long been recognised as one of the central figures in 20th-century art, the radical abstract work she created throughout her long career has remained less well-known than her representational art. By surveying her abstractions, Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction repositions O’Keeffe as one of America’s first and most daring abstract artists. The exhibition, one of the largest of O’Keeffe’s work ever assembled, goes on view February 6 – May 9, 2010.

Including more than 125 paintings, drawings, watercolours, and sculptures by O’Keeffe as well as selected examples of Alfred Stieglitz’s famous photographic portrait series of O’Keeffe, the exhibition has been many years in the making.

While it is true that O’Keeffe has entered the public imagination as a painter of sensual, feminine subjects, she is nevertheless viewed first and foremost as a painter of places and things. When one thinks of her work it is usually of her magnified images of open flowers and her iconic depictions of animal bones, her Lake George landscapes, her images of stark New Mexican cliffs, and her still lifes of fruit, leaves, shells, rocks, and bones. Even O’Keeffe’s canvasses of architecture, from the skyscrapers of Manhattan to the adobe structures of Abiquiu, come to mind more readily than the numerous works – made throughout her career – that she termed abstract.

This exhibition is the first to examine O’Keeffe’s achievement as an abstract artist. In 1915, O’Keeffe leaped into the forefront of American modernism with a group of abstract charcoal drawings that were among the most radical creations produced in the United States at that time. A year later, she added colour to her repertoire; by 1918, she was expressing the union of abstract form and colour in paint. First exhibited in 1923, O’Keeffe’s psychologically charged, brilliantly coloured abstract oils garnered immediate critical and public acclaim. For the next decade, abstraction would dominate her attention. Even after 1930, when O’Keeffe’s focus turned increasingly to representational subjects, she never abandoned abstraction, which remained the guiding principle of her art. She returned to abstraction in the mid 1940s with a new, planar vocabulary that provided a precedent for a younger generation of abstractionists.

Abstraction and representation for O’Keeffe were neither binary nor oppositional. She moved freely from one to the other, cognisant that all art is rooted in an underlying abstract formal invention. For O’Keeffe, abstraction offered a way to communicate ineffable thoughts and sensations. As she said in 1976, “The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint.” Through her personal language of abstraction, she sought to give visual form (as she confided in a 1916 letter to Alfred Stieglitz) to “things I feel and want to say – [but] havent [sic] words for.” Abstraction allowed her to express intangible experience – be it a quality of light, colour, sound, or response to a person or place. As O’Keeffe defined it in 1923, her goal as a painter was to “make the unknown – known. By unknown I mean the thing that means so much to the person that he wants to put it down – clarify something he feels but does not clearly understand.”

This exhibition and catalogue chronicle the trajectory of O’Keeffe’s career as an abstract artist and examine the forces impacting the changes in her subject matter and style. From the beginning of her career, she was, as critic Henry McBride remarked, “a newspaper personality.” Interpretations of her art were shaped almost exclusively by Alfred Stieglitz, artist, charismatic impresario, dealer, editor, and O’Keeffe’s eventual husband, who presented her work from 1916 to 1946 at the groundbreaking galleries “291”, the Anderson Galleries, the Intimate Gallery, and An American Place. Stieglitz’s public and private statements about O’Keeffe’s early abstractions and the photographs he took of her, partially clothed or nude, led critics to interpret her work – to her great dismay – as Freudian-tinged, psychological expressions of her sexuality.

Cognisant of the public’s lack of sympathy for abstraction and seeking to direct the critics away from sexualised readings of her work, O’Keeffe self-consciously began to introduce more recognisable images into her repertoire in the mid-1920s. As she wrote to the writer Sherwood Anderson in 1924, “I suppose the reason I got down to an effort to be objective is that I didn’t like the interpretations of my other things [abstractions].” O’Keeffe’s increasing shift to representational subjects, coupled with Stieglitz’s penchant for favouring the exhibition of new, previously unseen work, meant that O’Keeffe’s abstractions rarely figured in the exhibitions Stieglitz mounted of her work after 1930, with the result that her first forays into abstraction virtually disappeared from public view.”

Text from the Phillips Collection website [Online] Cited 15/03/2010 no longer available online

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Music, Pink and Blue No. 2' 1918

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Music, Pink and Blue No. 2
1918
Oil on canvas, 35 x 29 1/8 in. (88.9 x 74 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Gift of Emily Fisher Landau in honour of Tom Armstrong
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Series I - No. 3' 1918

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Series I – No. 3
1918
Oil on board
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
Milwaukee Art Museum
Gift of Jane Bradley Pettit Foundation and The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation
Photography by Larry Sanders
© Milwaukee Art Museum

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Series I, No. 4' 1918

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Series I, No. 4
1918
Oil on canvas
20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich
Gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Abstraction White Rose' 1927

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Abstraction White Rose
1927
Oil on canvas
36 x 30 in. (91.4 x 76.2 cm)
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Gift, The Burnett Foundation and The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation
© Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986) 'Black Place II' 1944

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Black Place II
1944
Oil on canvas
36 x 40 in. (91.4 x 101.6 cm)
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Gift, The Burnett Foundation
© 1987, Private Collection

 

 

The Phillips Collection
1600 21st Street, NW, Washington, D.C., near the corner of 21st and Q Streets, NW

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm, with extended evening hours on Thursdays until 8.30 pm, and on Sundays from 12 pm to 6 pm.

Phillips Collection website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Sleep/Wound’ 1995-96


Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: 'Sleep/Wound' 1995-96 *PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY - IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

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