Posts Tagged ‘Jean Dubuffet

26
Sep
14

Exhibition: ‘Rothko to Richter: Mark Making in Abstract Painting from the Collection of Preston H. Haskell’, Class of 1960 at the Princeton University Art Museum

Exhibition dates: 24th May – 5th October 2014

 

Frank Stella. 'Double Scramble' 1978

 

Frank Stella (American, b. 1936)
Double Scramble
1978
Oil on canvas
174.9 x 350.5cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

Think about the big 4 colours:  Red Green Blue Yellow – and then there are the browns, the purples, magenta, cyan etc etc… Then have a look at the Gerhard Richter (Abstract Painting (613-3), 1986 below) in that light. A great colourist – but very reliant on the big four. Now compare him to Helen Frankenthaler (Belfry, 1979 below) – with this artist it’s a sort of a green, a sort of a red. And she used that palette in her watercolours as well.

They are both certainly aware of the presence of something else. I don’t know if Helen Frankenthaler would say that, and Gerhard Richter certainly wouldn’t, but there is an energy that is not human in the work of both of these artists. My benchmark in photography has always been the first Paul Caponigro exhibition which was called “In the presence of …” : hardly the vibrancy or the zeitgeist of R and F, but he had it right in front of his camera.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Princeton University Art Museum for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the art work for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Josef Albers. 'Study for Homage to the Square' 1964

 

Josef Albers (German, 1888-1976)
Study for Homage 
to the Square
1964
Oil on paper
30.8 x 33.3cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

Study for Homage to the Square reveals a great deal about the series that has done more than any other to establish Josef Albers’s reputation in the United States. More than one thousand Homages to the Square exist, some paintings, others prints. Launched in 1950, the series forecasts many of the key concerns of the 1960s, including seriality and repetition. In its predilection for regular shapes and methodical compositions, as well as spatial and chromatic illusionism, Homage to the Square also lays the foundation for that decade’s romance with geometric abstraction. Importantly, Homages to the Square are rooted in interwar Constructivism. Albers spent more than ten years at the Bauhaus, from 1920 to 1933, experimenting with glass, typography, furniture design, photography, printmaking, and painting. There he was weaned on the insights of artists like Piet Mondrian and fellow teachers Laslo Moholy-Nagy and Walter Gropius. Albers also played an important role in transmitting European modernism to a younger generation of American artists, first at Black Mountain College, where he taught between 1933 and 1949, and then at Yale, where he was an instructor from 1950 to 1958.1

Each work in the Homage to the Square series conforms to one of four formats, all based on nested squares. What distinguishes one format from another is the mathematical ratio governing the intervals between the squares.2 Within this standardised program, however, Albers extracts incredible variety. The squares are rendered in a range of hues that vary in their degree of brightness and saturation, creating “optical reversals” that cause some squares to project and others to recede. Albers once described the Homage to the Square series as a stage on which colour might “act.”3 While individual works experiment with different “colour climates,” the cycle in its entirety explores the “relational” character of colour.4 Colour, Albers believed, is one of the most mutable, contingent, even deceptive phenomena in the world: any one colour is invariably affected by the colours around it, altering its identity and manipulating perception in the process.5 What we see is never what we see in the Homage to the Square cycle. The paint handling in Study is much looser than in other works from the series, whose smooth, fastidious surfaces are free of what Albers called “hand-writing,” by which he meant texture, impasto, and visual incident.6 However, the very informality of this smaller piece underscores an often overlooked feature of the series as a whole: the gentle, imprecise edges separating one square from another. In finessing the boundaries between shapes, Albers also finessed the boundaries between colours, investing his works with maximum visual intensity.

Kelly Baum

 

  • 1 Richard Anuszkiewicz studied with Albers at Yale between 1953 and 1955.
  • 2 See Werner Spies, Josef Albers (New York: Abrams, 1970), pp. 48-50.
  • 3 See Sewell Sillman, Josef Albers: Paintings, Prints, Projects (New York: Clarke and Way / Associates in Fine Arts, 1956), p. 36.
  • 4 See Spies, Josef Albers, 44. In 1963, Albers published the important Interaction of Color.
  • 5 In this respect, Albers sought to exploit the “discrepancy” between “physical fact” and “psychic effect.” See Hal Foster, “The Bauhaus Idea in America,” in Albers and Moholy-Nagy: From the Bauhaus to the New World, ed. Achim Borchardt-Hume (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), p. 99.
  • 6 Kynaston L. McShine, Josef Albers: Homage to the Square (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1964), n.p. In the same publication, Albers describes his painting technique, which involved applying paint directly from the tube with a palette knife in one thin, even coat to create a “homogenous” “paint film.”

 

Robert Motherwell. 'Untitled (red)' 1972

 

Robert Motherwell (American, 1915-1991)
Untitled (red)
1972
Acrylic on canvas
182.6 x 137.3cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Willem de Kooning. 'Untitled (Woman)' 1965

 

Willem de Kooning (Dutch-American, 1904-1997)
Untitled (Woman)
1965
Oil on paper
73.7 x 58.4cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Willem de Kooning. 'Untitled (Woman)' (detail) 1965

 

Willem de Kooning (Dutch-American, 1904-1997)
Untitled (Woman) 
(detail)
1965
Oil on paper
73.7 x 58.4cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

Woman II and Untitled (Woman) attest to de Kooning’s pursuit of fluidity and irresolution. Over the course of the 1960s, he altered his materials so as to facilitate his protracted editing process and increase the speed, vitality, and fluency of his brushwork – smooth supports reduced drag while safflower oil and kerosene slowed the drying time of his paints. As de Kooning said in 1960, “I was never interested … [in] how to make a good,” as in a perfect, finished “painting.” “I didn’t want to pin it down at all.”

 

Helen Frankenthaler. 'February's Turn' 1979

 

Helen Frankenthaler (American, 1928-2011)
February’s Turn
1979
Oil on canvas
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Helen Frankenthaler. 'Belfry' 1979

 

Helen Frankenthaler (American, 1928-2011)
Belfry
1979
Acrylic on canvas
208.4 x 219.7cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

An intriguing paradox lies at the heart of Helen Frankenthaler’s work. In 1952 the artist started to create paintings that were gestural in appearance but not in fact. Thanks to a novel technique called staining, in which paint is poured onto canvas, Frankenthaler made marks that mimicked the sweeping strokes of Abstract Expressionism but indexed neither her hand nor her distinctive personality. Insofar as she minimised the role of will, choice, and subjectivity, Frankenthaler heralded a paradigm shift in postwar painting, breaking with Abstract Expressionism and planting a wedge between gesture and hand, art and artist. Frankenthaler’s technique, which evolved over time to include implements as unconventional as rags, mops, basters, sponges, squeegees, and windshield wipers,1 also has bearing on the equally paradoxical space of her paintings. In one respect, Frankenthaler strove to acknowledge, through the very act of painting, the feature that distinguishes painting from every other medium – flatness.2 This she did by thinning her paint and applying it to unprimed canvas, allowing the paint to penetrate the fabric. What results is not only a flat surface that reiterates the flat support on which it resides but also an image that is identified exactly with its ground. At the same time,

Frankenthaler’s work generates undoubtedly atmospheric effects. As the artist said in 1971, “Pictures are flat and part of the nuance and often the beauty or the drama that makes a work, or gives it life … is that it presents such an ambiguous situation of an undeniably flat surface, but on it and within it an intense play and drama of space, movements, light, illusion, [and] different perspectives.”3 Belfry and February’s Turn, both from the midpoint of Frankenthaler’s career, rely on just such an ambiguous sensation of space and depth. In their case, however, this ambiguity is exacerbated by the intrusion of marks that contradict the illusion of “aerated” flatness.4 Take the anomalous, almost gratuitous brushstroke in the centre right of Belfry, for instance, or the beige clump and the area of black impasto in February’s Turn, all of which lie obstinately on the surface of otherwise dyed canvases.

These marks very clearly qualify as painterly touches. As such, they introduce a degree of materiality to Frankenthaler’s mostly disembodied paintings and recall traditional Abstract Expressionism. Belfry and February’s Turn likewise exemplify a theme that concerned Frankenthaler from the very beginning of her career: landscape. Although abstract, these paintings evoke, through format, palette, and composition, the environments in which the artist lived and traveled, including the waterfront property she bought in Connecticut in 1978 and the arid, sunburned deserts of Arizona, which she visited in 1976 and 1977.

Kelly Baum

 

  1. Susan Cross, “The Emergence of a Painter,” After Mountains and Sea: Frankenthaler 1956-1959 (New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1998), p. 41.
  2. See, for instance, Clement Greenberg’s, “Modernist Painting [1960-65],” in Art in Theory, 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1993), pp. 754-60.
  3. Cindy Nemser, “Interview with Helen Frankenthaler,” Arts Magazine 46 (November 1971), p. 54.
  4. John Elderfield, Frankenthaler (New York: Abrams, 1989), 66, 255. See also E. A. Carmean, “On Five Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler,” Art International 22, No. 4 (1978): pp. 28-32; and Karen Wilkin, Frankenthaler: The Darker Palette (Savannah, GA: Savannah College of Art and Design), 1998.

 

Paul Caponigro. 'Monument Valley, Utah' 1970

 

Paul Caponigro (American, b. 1932)
Monument Valley, Utah
1970
From Portfolio II
Gelatin silver print

 

Paul Caponigro. 'Rock Wall, Connecticut' 1959

 

Paul Caponigro (American, b. 1932)
Rock Wall, Connecticut
1959
Gelatin silver print

 

Gerhard Richter. 'Abstract Painting (613-3) 1986

 

Gerhard Richter (German, b. 1932)
Abstract Painting (613-3)
1986
Oil on canvas
260.7 x 203cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

Few artists have tackled the subject of painting with more self-consciousness, with greater sensitivity to the history, dilemmas, and possibilities of the medium, than Gerhard Richter. For the last five decades, Richter has explored the very nature of painting with and in paint, making his an especially reflexive enterprise. In many ways, contradiction defines his prolific body of work, as does diversity, whether of mode, style, technique, or content. A student of two very different art academies, one in Dresden and the other in Düsseldorf, where he trained with Joseph Beuys, Richter was weaned on Eastern European Social Realism as well as Western Pop and Fluxus. His earliest mature canvases, from the early 1960s, consist of blurry renditions of mostly ready-made photographs representing subjects both banal and chilling, from automobiles and Nazi officials to military aircraft and aerial cityscapes. By 1966, Richter had begun to experiment with abstraction. To this day, he still alternates between objective and nonobjective painting.

The groundwork for pieces like Abstract Painting (613-3) was laid in the early 1970s, when Richter began a series of nonrepresentational paintings based on photographic enlargements of brushstrokes.1 Because they depict, in a highly illusionistic manner, reproductions of otherwise abstract marks, such paintings confuse the handmade and the technological, the original and the copy. Richter continued to duplicate brushstrokes until 1980, when he started to make actual abstract paintings, albeit in unconventional ways.2 Abstract Painting (613-3) exemplifies the technique for which Richter is recognised today, one in which editing, subtraction, and cancellation play crucial roles.3 Here as elsewhere, the artist fleshed out a preliminary composition with ordinary brushes. As it was drying, he covered the hard edge of a squeegee with paint and dragged it across the surface of the canvas, an action that blended some layers but removed others, thereby revealing what was previously concealed.4 The resulting works are tapestries of abrasions and palimpsests, heterogeneous fields of visual incident. Discontinuity is particularly evident in Abstract Painting (613-3), due to variations in the directionality of paint, the combination of cool and warm hues, and the presence of a vertical seam near the middle of the canvas. To the extent that it cedes some control to chance and introduces the spectre of mechanicity, Richter’s process “muffles singular signs of personal expression”5 and trades existential drama for moderation, unlike the gestural, virtuosic canvases his paintings superficially resemble. As with many of his abstractions after 1980, Abstract Painting (613-3)’s palette is bright and sumptuous in appearance but not necessarily in tone.6 For Richter, colour does not signify “happiness,” he once said, but instead a “tense” or “artificial” “cheeriness” associated with “gritted teeth.”7

Kelly Baum

 

  1. See Robert Storr, Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2002), 53, pp. 68-69.
  2. These new abstractions coincided with a revival of Expressionism, called Neo-Expressionism, in the United States and Europe, a tradition from which Richter felt alienated and to which his works stand in pointed contrast. See “MoMA Interview with Robert Storr, 2002,” in Gerhard Richter: Writings, 1961-2007, ed. Dietmar Elger and Hans Ulrich Obrist (New York: D.A.P., 2009), p. 428.
  3. See ibid., pp. 71–74.
  4. Richter’s squeegees are essentially long pieces of rectangular plastic, often as wide as his canvases, to which handles are attached. While abrading a surface with the squeegee, Richter will sometimes use a brush or a knife to further blend and scrape. See Gerhard Richter Painting, directed by Corinna Belz (Berlin: Zero One Film, 2011), dvd.
  5. Hal Foster, “Semblance According to Gerhard Richter,” Raritan 22 (Winter 2003): 160. See also Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Gerhard Richter: Abstract Paintings 2009 (Cologne: Walther Kônig, 2009), 89, 95. Richter does not always agree with this reading of his work. See “Interview with Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, 1986,” in Gerhard Richter: Writings, p. 180.
  6. The stringent quality of this and other abstractions by Richter is due as much to his predilection for bright, sharply contrasting colours as it is to his avoidance of earth tones.
  7. See “Interview with Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, 2004,” p. 489.

 

Gerhard Richter. 'Abstract Painting (613-3)' 1986 (detail)

 

Gerhard Richter (German, b. 1932)
Abstract Painting (613-3) (detail)
1986
Oil on canvas
260.7 x 203cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

Extract from MARK, MAKER, METHOD by Kelly Baum

The paintings in Rothko to Richter narrate a history of postwar art whose greatest points of tension and most important moments of breakthrough revolve around facture, from the Latin facere, meaning “to make.”3 Together they demonstrate a fundamental fact: when painting’s prerogatives change, so too do its procedures. Focusing on select works from the Haskell Collection, this essay explores the nature of marks and mark-making in abstract painting after World War II. In the case of the artists seen here, mark-making was an activity of incredible consequence. The success or failure of any one painting might rest on something as elementary as the choice between oil paint and acrylic paint or a brush and a palette knife. It might depend on the difference between staining and smearing, between choppy strokes and fluid swipes, or between painting dry-on-dry and wet-on-wet.

With this in mind, my essay examines how and what marks signify within a single artist’s work as well as in postwar painting as a whole. How do shifts in the way marks are made signal broader shifts in artistic practice? What are the different, often competing logics of mark-making at any given moment? How do marks reflect or, alternately, disavow the impact of mass media, technology, and photomechanical reproduction in the mid- to late twentieth century? Such an investigation is premised on a particular understanding of the word “mark.” First and foremost, “mark” is a product as well as a process – more specifically, it is an end that cannot be separated from its means. Marks are also structural – as well as vocal – components of any given painting. Not only do they reveal a great deal about a painting’s meaning, they also shape that meaning, give it form and substance, for the viewer. For the purposes of this essay, then, I consider the mechanics of mark-making to be socially, physically, symbolically, and historically important.

Marks are the constituent feature, the backbone, of painting. A painting may be comprised of hundreds, if not thousands, of marks. In most cases, these marks are made in paint, on a support, by the hands of an artist. Even when those hands wield an implement – a brush or palette knife, for example – a physical connection still obtains between artist and mark.4 (What are implements like these, after all, but prostheses that extend the hand’s reach and capability?) Many of the artists in Rothko to Richter exploit this very character of the mark. In their paintings, a direct, transparent relationship exists between mark and method, a one-to-one correspondence between every stroke of paint and every movement of the artist’s hand. Here mark and method are tautological: the former records the latter. However, not every artist in Rothko to Richter subscribes to this approach. Several developed techniques designed to depersonalise the act of mark-making, to literally divorce the mark from the artist’s hand. Some even went so far as to erase the traces their tools left behind, effacing marks as soon as they were created. Instead of flaunting the process by which their paintings were produced, these artists dissimulated.

Dominating the Haskell Collection are Abstract Expressionist painters and their counterparts in Europe, including Appel, de Kooning, Goldberg, Kline, Riopelle, Rothko, and Tworkov.5 To varying degrees, these artists prized immediacy, virtuosity, and expression. Autographic gestures play a key role in their paintings.6 Such marks constitute a kind of painterly handwriting that indexes the artist’s distinct will, personality, and psychological state – his or her very self.

Etymologically, “gesture” derives from the Medieval Latin gestura, meaning “to carry.” In its original form, gesture denoted bearing – that is, the manner in which human beings deport themselves physically. It was also affiliated with rhetoric: in the past, gesture delineated a set of “bodily movements, attitudes, expression of countenance” intended to “giv[e] effect to oratory.”7 Gesture was a supplement to speech, a kind of accent or embellishment, in other words. All such connotations are relevant to the Expressionist canvases in the Haskell Collection: for artists like Goldberg and Kline, gestures were overtures, forms of communication that served to address viewers directly and invite them to participate in a subjective exchange. Gesturing involved gesticulating in the sense we understand that word today. In Appel’s Dans la Tempête (1960) or de Kooning’s Woman II (1961), for instance, the artist’s hand, wrist, and arm – sometimes his entire body – are marshalled so as to externalise otherwise private impulses, instincts, and passions. The affective power of such gestures was in direct proportion to their muscularity, fluidity, and dynamism, traits enthusiastically embraced by American and European Expressionists, who equated intensity of spirit with intensity of brushwork.

As art historian Meyer Schapiro astutely argued in 1957, the new emphasis on gesture among abstract painters of the postwar generation precipitated concomitant changes in technique. “The consciousness of the personal and spontaneous” in painting, Schapiro wrote, “stimulates the artist to invent devices of handling, processing, surfacing, which confer to the utmost degree the aspect of the freely made. Hence the great importance of the mark, the stroke, the brush, the drip, the quality of the substance of paint itself, and the surface of the canvas as a texture and field of operation.”8 This holds true of Appel’s Dans la Tempête (1960), de Kooning’s Untitled (Woman) (1965), Goldberg’s The Keep (1958), and Kline’s Untitled (1960), among other works, whose richly impastoed surfaces and bold, impetuous brushwork register not only heightened emotion but also the presence of the artist.

If Schapiro championed these paintings as enthusiastically as he did, it was because they represented, in his view, the “last hand-made personal objects within our culture.”9 Insofar as Rothko’s and de Kooning’s canvases preserved increasingly obsolete methods of fabrication, privileging manual over industrial forms of production, they “affirmed the individual in opposition to the contrary qualities of the ordinary experience of working and doing.”10 For Schapiro, the importance of painters like Goldberg and Tworkov lay precisely in their efforts to humanise art at a moment when the subject was under assault from the dehumanising forces of science, technology, and mass media. In his view, Abstract Expressionism represented the last bastion of freedom and individuality in an increasingly homogenous, mechanised world, a bulwark against the intrusion of standardisation into every walk of life.

However, by the late 1950s, when Schapiro made this claim, a sea change was already well under way in the world of art. Even then, a younger generation of artists, represented by Rauschenberg and Stella, was beginning to embrace at the level of technique the very shifts in society and subjectivity that Schapiro and the Abstract Expressionists decried. As the 1950s gave way to the 1960s, increasing numbers of artists would cease to identify either physically or emotionally with their canvases. Simultaneously, they began to align painting with fabrication, deriving insight from the fields of design and engineering. Gradually, the taste for “the machine-made, the impersonal, and reproducible,” likewise “an air of coolness and mechanical control,” would infiltrate art, heralding a break with Abstract Expressionism.11

 

  • 3 Sometimes reduced to “texture,” facture designates the way a work of art has been made and the manner in which its material components have been manipulated.
  • 4 As much as possible, I have tried to avoid falling into the all-too-common trap of fetishising the painted mark. Although much can be learned about a painting by deciphering the marks that comprise it, the mark is often conflated with something more problematic, the artist’s touch, a supposed symbol of singularity and authenticity that is inextricably related to the work’s exchange value and its status as a commodity on the market.
  • 5 For more information on Expressionism in Europe, see Serge Guilbaut, “Disdain for the Stain: Abstract Expressionism and Tachisme,” in Abstract Expressionism: The International Context, ed. Joan Marter (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2007).
  • 6 As Michael Leja argues, this was a historically, culturally, and ideologically specific self that invested great importance in “irrationality” and reflected new knowledge about the human mind, psyche, and condition. See his Reframing Abstract Expressionism: Subjectivity and Painting in the 1940s (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993), pp. 2-9, pp. 36-41. See also Ann Eden Gibson, Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997).
  • 7 Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. “Gesture,” http://www.oed.com/search?searchType=dictionary&q=gesture&_searchBtn=Search.
  • 8 Meyer Schapiro, “Recent Abstract Painting (1957),” in Modern Art: 19th and 20th Centuries (New York: George Braziller, 1978), p. 218.
  • 9 Ibid., p. 217.
  • 10 Ibid., p. 218.
  • 11 Ibid., p. 219. As Schapiro notes, if science and engineering were “distasteful” to the Abstract Expressionists, it was due largely to the role they played in World War II and the Holocaust.

 

Franz Kline. 'Untitled' 1960

 

Franz Kline (American, 1910-1962)
Untitled
1960
Brush and oil on canvas
47 x 45.1cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 The Franz Kline Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Hans Hofmann. 'Composition #3' 1952

 

Hans Hofmann (American born Germany, 1880-1966)
Composition #3
1952
Oil on canvas
76.8 x 61.3cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Hans Hofmann. 'Midday' 1956

 

Hans Hofmann (American born Germany, 1880-1966)
Midday
1956
Oil on canvas
46.4 x 35.9cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

Hans Hofmann is generally associated with the New York School, but he actually belongs to an earlier generation of artists based in Europe. Indeed, Hofmann witnessed firsthand the invention of abstraction while living in Paris from 1904 to 1914. Between 1933 and 1958, he would impart the lessons of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso as well as those of Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian to the students who attended his art schools in New York and Provincetown, Massachusetts.1 Later in life, after the works in the Haskell Collection were made, Hofmann helped broker the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Minimalism, a movement that shared his more recent predilection for restraint, objectivity, and pictorial problem-solving.2

Hofmann was never wedded to any one approach to painting. Indeed, “diversity” was in many respects his signature style. Before the late 1940s, he produced paintings of abstracted interiors, still lifes, landscapes, and figure studies, all of which bear the imprint of Cubism and Fauvism. By 1950, however, his paintings were reliably abstract: no, or almost no, recognisable content remained. Characterised by radiant luminosity, brilliant colour contrasts, and tactile surfaces, Composition #3 and Midday were created just a few years before the artist closed his two schools, a moment that coincided with his critical recognition as a painter. Colour serves a structural role in both paintings, generating form and defining space. In Composition #3, paint is added and subtracted, sometimes ferociously, with implements ranging from fingertips and spatulas to thick brushes and sharp paintbrush handles, all of which register clearly on the canvas. Clement Greenberg could have been describing this work when he wrote, “Klee and Soutine were perhaps the first to address the picture surface consciously as a responsive rather than inert object, and painting itself as an affair of prodding and pushing, scoring and marking, rather than of simply inscribing or covering. Hofmann has taken this approach further, and made it do even more.”3 For its part, Midday exemplifies Hofmann’s distinctive brand of “grandiose Pointillism,” a manner adopted around 1954.4 Covered in a dense crust of paint, the work is made of staccato brush marks that extend from edge to edge, resulting in an atomised, decomposed surface whose impasto projects into space.5 Midday’s resemblance to a mosaic is more than coincidental: in 1950 and 1956, Hofmann received commissions to create monumental mosaics for public spaces.

Kelly Baum

 

  1. On the ways in which Hofmann divests the tradition of abstraction embodied by Mondrian and Kandinsky of its social and utopian aspirations, see Sam Hunter, “Introduction,” in Hans Hofmann, ed. James Yohe (New York: Rizzoli, 2002), pp. 15-16.
  2. Like many of his contemporaries in Europe and the United States, Hofmann often linked the creation of art to spirituality, on the one hand, and to the artist’s personal temperament, on the other. However, these priorities were far less pronounced in his work than in that of artists such as Mondrian and Rothko. Hofmann’s concern was more for the mechanics – the grammar – of art. Ibid., p. 16, 20.
  3. “Hans Hofmann [1958],” in Art and Culture: Critical Essays (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961), p. 195.
  4. Hunter, “Introduction,” p. 29.
  5. On the art historical importance of Hoffmann’s “fat” surfaces, which contribute to the perception of his pictures as “objects,” see Clement Greenberg, Hofmann (Paris: G. Fall, 1961), p. 32, 34.

 

Hans Hofmann. 'Midday' 1956 (detail)

 

Hans Hofmann (American born Germany, 1880-1966)
Midday (detail)
1956
Oil on canvas
46.4 x 35.9cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

IN THE WAKE OF ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM by Hal Foster

This selection from the Haskell Collection focuses on Abstract Expressionism and its aftermath and, as such, provides an occasion to reflect on the fate of these two terms, abstraction and expression, in the advanced painting of this period. I want to do so briefly here, one term at a time.

In Western painting at least since Rembrandt, we look for expression, first and foremost, in brushwork, especially brushwork that exceeds the task of representation, brushwork that appears as gesture. Gesture in excess of representation tends to be read as the mark of the artist, not only of his distinctive touch but of that touch at a particular moment. We thus take gesture to be singular, original, authentic, in a word, individual – an indication, perhaps, of the very subjectivity of the artist at that instant in time. Now, what happens to this set of associations when we jump two hundred and fifty years, from Rembrandt to Van Gogh (to stay on a Dutch axis), and then move fifty years further, from Van Gogh to Willem de Kooning (who is represented in the Haskell Collection by two oil studies for his great Woman paintings)? In what ways do these associations, these conventions (for that is what they are), come under pressure?

Pitched in this way, the question is too general; so consider the works in the Haskell Collection produced by 1960 or so by Karel Appel, Michael Goldberg, Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline, Jean-Paul Riopelle, and Jack Tworkov. Can we agree that, in each case, the artist appears to believe in his gesture as defined above, that is, as a bearer of a uniquely subjective touch? All of these pieces, even when not large, conceive the picture as an “arena” for “action” (per the famous account of Abstract Expressionism given by the critic Harold Rosenberg in 1952).1 At the same time, this action is always qualified by calculation: note, for example, how Hofmann minds the edges of his canvases; and this gesture is sometimes wilful: note, for instance, how Goldberg seems a little forced in his painterly attack.

Once reiterated, a gesture, whether within one painting or from one painting to another, becomes a performance (not simply an action) as well as a sign (not simply an expression), and in this way it becomes divided from the very presence that it appeared to register in the first place. Jackson Pollock struggled with this conundrum – it was one factor that led to his partial return to figuration as early as 1951 – and we can sense this struggle in some of the works in the Haskell Collection, too (I see it in the Riopelle, among others). This problem of the reiteration of gesture is compounded by the greater difficulty of the repetition of style, that is, the repetition of the set of conventions that is Expressionism. For if de Kooning, Pollock, and friends worked in the wake of German Expressionism, so their followers laboured in the aftermath of Abstract Expressionism; thus they were belated Expressionists, in effect, twice over. As gesture came under existential pressure and Expressionism under art historical pressure, they could not help but see that the former might not be as singular, nor the latter as original, as they had once thought.2

Note what occurs after 1960, in part in response to this predicament, in the Color Field painting of Helen Frankenthaler, Paul Jenkins, and Morris Louis: gesture becomes muted, and the paint is loosened from the brush. Letting paint flow is what Frankenthaler learned from the drip paintings of Pollock, and what Louis and others learned from Frankenthaler (they exploited the new fluidity of acrylics here). And yet, however liberated, this paint speaks less of the expressive presence of the painter than of the material conditions of the painting – the fact that acrylic paint runs, mixes, responds to gravity, and stains the canvas (if it is not gessoed) in such a way that its weave becomes apparent and its flatness is foregrounded. “Flatness and the delimitation of flatness”: according to the critic Clement Greenberg, these are, respectively, the essential attribute of painting in general and the distinctive capability of abstract painting in particular.3 In this respect, see how Louis, in the 1962 painting in the Haskell Collection, lets his long bands of paint develop in a way that declares not only the vertical hang of the painting but also its flat surface; here the physical characteristics of paint, colour, and canvas are the sole subjects. Indeed, the painting seems to be produced as though by gravity alone, as though it were almost automatic; in comparison with Abstract Expressionism, the expressivity of the artist is here suppressed.

Such is the lesson that Frank Stella took from Louis in paintings like Double Scramble (1978) – a late example of work initiated in the mid-1960s. The critic Michael Fried termed such compositions “deductive structures” because they seemed to derive strictly from the rectangle of the support and the width of the stretcher, that is, they were deduced from the given structure of the painting alone.4 Here we are even further from the expressivity of Abstract Expressionism than we were with Louis: the composition seems to draw itself. Expressivity appears to return in the abstractions of Gerhard Richter, who is also represented in the Haskell Collection, yet the victory is a Pyrrhic one: like his  canvases, his gestures are so numerous and so reiterative that they seem to cancel one another out and so to nullify as much as to register any expressive self.

Like expression, abstraction also comes under pressure during the period surveyed by the Haskell Collection. Although presented in transcendental terms by pioneers of abstract painting such as Wassily Kandinsky in the 1910s, it was largely drained of this metaphysics by the 1960s, to the point where Stella could describe his work in the most positivist of terms: “What you see is what you see.”5 At the same time, abstraction was still endowed with great consequence for art history in general. In 1936, when the curator Alfred H. Barr Jr. presented his famous diagram of “Cubism and Abstract Art” for his show of that title at the new Museum of Modern Art in New York, abstraction served as the through-line of twentieth-century art, one that Greenberg made not only coherent but also ineluctable through his narrative of the progressive self-refinement of “modernist painting.” This story provided continuity as well as goal to twentieth-century art: “I cannot insist enough,” Greenberg wrote in “Modernist Painting” (1961), “that Modernism has never meant, and does not mean now, anything like a break with the past.”6

However, this story soon hit a large bump in the road. As abstract painting focused evermore on its own materiality, its status as an object became impossible to avoid; clearly the next step, it seemed to some avant-gardists, was to dispense with paintings altogether and to produce objects instead. Greenberg already glimpsed this heretical possibility with Stella, and this is why he never included Stella in his canon. Even if Fried still regarded Stella as the exemplar of “modernist painting,” for others, such as his close friend Carl Andre, Stella was on the other side, their side, the side of the Minimalist object as defined by the artist-critic Donald Judd. At this point, then, a “deductive structure” by Stella could be read – was read – as pure painting by some and as specific object by others.

This ambiguous status of abstract painting – as both transcendental force and mere thing, as both full and null – was already glimpsed in its first years. For example, for Kazimir Malevich, the monochrome, in its ideality, pointed to a world beyond this one; for his compatriot Aleksandr Rodchenko, however, the monochrome, in its materiality, underscored that this world was the only one we have. (At times these poles switched their charge: for some artists, transcendental abstraction suggested an emptying out of painting, a sort of Zen nullity of its own, while for others, mundane abstraction suggested a thingly presence, a fullness of its own, but the ambiguous status remained constant.) The paradox of abstraction as both full and null returns in the period surveyed by the Haskell Collection: the canvases by Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, and others clearly hold to the metaphysical power of abstract painting, whereas the paintings by Richter, Stella, and others manifestly do not.

Abstract painting was challenged by more than its own objecthood; it also faced an external threat, one that was even more grave. This problem runs back to its early days too, for abstraction emerged, circa 1912-13, along with two other avant-garde inventions, the collage and the readymade, which brought the mass-media image and the mass-produced object into the frame of high art. For many artists and critics, abstract painting was all the more important for the stout resistance it offered to these troublesome incursions (this is certainly what Greenberg believed), yet it could not fend off such mediation forever, and in the 1950s and 1960s it mostly gave up.7 De Kooning, for example, used bits of collage in his Woman series, and Robert Rauschenberg, who is also represented in the Haskell Collection, added massive amounts of mediated images to his paintings.8 By the time of Richter, such mediation is fully folded into painting: almost from the start of his career, he has moved back and forth between abstract paintings and figurative ones based on photographs (both appropriated and his own); moreover, as suggested above, his abstract paintings appear mediated in their own ways. And this always-already mediated condition is the very point of departure of the spectacular paintings by Jack Goldstein in the Haskell Collection: however abstract they appear, they are worked up entirely from appropriated images. At this point the categories of abstraction and expression are transformed beyond recognition.9

 

  1. Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters,” Art News 51 (December 1952).
  2. As represented in the Haskell Collection, some artists, such as Sam Francis and Joan Mitchell, carried on as if these problems didn’t matter much.
  3. Clement Greenberg, “After Abstract Expressionism,” Art International 25 (October 1962), p. 30.
  4. Michael Fried, Three American Painters: Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Frank Stella (Cambridge, MA: Fogg Art Museum, 1965).
  5. Frank Stella, quoted in Bruce Glaser, “Questions to Stella and Judd,” Art News 65 (September 1966), p. 59.
  6. Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting,” Arts Yearbook 4 (1961), p. 108.
  7. It is not clear how opposed abstraction was to these other forms in the first place. For example, a monochrome or a grid painting is already a kind of readymade, and as soon as paint comes from an industrial tube, it is a sort of readymade too.
  8. De Kooning was rarely fully abstract; Greenberg comments on his “homeless representation” in “After Abstract Expressionism,” p. 25.
  9. These complications continue in the current work of Wade Guyton, Amy Sillman, Christopher Wool, and many others; indeed, they are largely what sustain advanced painting in the present.

 

Karel Appel. 'Dans la Tempête' 1960

 

Karel Appel (Dutch, 1921-2006)
Dans la Tempête
1960
Oil on canvas
88.9 x 115.9cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Karel Appel. 'Dans la Tempête' (detail) 1960

 

Karel Appel (Dutch, 1921-2006)
Dans la Tempête (detail)
1960
Oil on canvas
88.9 x 115.9 cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

“We live always in a tremendous chaos,” Karel Appel stated to an interviewer in 1986, “and who can make the chaos positive anymore? Only the artist.”1 Registering, but also redeeming, social, political, and psychic conflict was an ethical imperative for Appel, who came of age as an artist in the 1940s. Appel witnessed firsthand the brutalisation of human beings by war, prejudice, deprivation, and occupation, and he sought to visualise these experiences through art. His canvases are ravaged, quite literally, by brushes, palette knives, and fingers. Choked by thick layers of impasto, their surfaces are as agitated as the animals and figures the paintings depict. Form, colour, content, and technique all serve as corollaries to the period of profound turmoil in which Appel worked. Importantly, the artist’s approach to historical trauma was dialectical. The devastation of pre- and postwar Europe, he believed, was a tabula rasa making possible the rebirth of both art and human beings.2

Appel was a founding member of Cobra (1948-51), a group of Expressionist painters from Amsterdam, Brussels, and Copenhagen. Appel shared with other Cobra artists an appreciation for the art of the untutored, including children and the mentally ill, whose supposed alienation from Western, classical tradition granted them privileged access to the wellsprings of creativity: fantasy, passion, and instinct.3 Believing that society had been betrayed by logic and science, Appel turned to the irrational for inspiration. His predilection for the primal aligned him with Jean Dubuffet and Art Brut, an association formalised by his appearance in French critic Michel Tapié’s 1952 exhibition Un Art autreDans la Tempête was painted in 1960, three years after Appel relocated temporarily to New York, where he socialised with Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. Upon arriving in Manhattan, Appel was struck not only by the spontaneous, improvisatory spirit of jazz but also by the city’s “unfinished quality.”4 He subsequently sought to translate this contingency into paintings like Dans la Tempête. Trapped in a state of arrested development, this work also demonstrates Appel’s longstanding fascination with the “creaturely,” that is, with the reduction of humans to the condition of animals.5 Here as elsewhere, the artist elides the one and the other, manufacturing from their cross-pollination a grotesque bestiary of mutants whose anatomical deformations evoke distress. Much as Appel blends pigment by painting wet-on-wet, so too does he blur the boundaries between things and the grounds they inhabit: permeability trumps both spatial and physical integrity, as seen in Dans la Tempête, where a yellow zoomorphic shape at the left and a barely legible demi-human at the right thrash amongst swirls of paint.6

Kelly Baum

 

  1. Sam Hunter, “Karel Appel in the Spirit of Our Time,” Arts Magazine 62 (January 1988), p. 60.
  2. Hal Foster, “Creaturely, Cobra,” October 141 (Summer 2013), p. 7.
  3. See Karel Appel, Psychopathological Notebook: Drawings and Gouaches, 1948-1950 (Bern: Gachnang and Springer, 1999).
  4. Hunter, “Karel Appel,” p. 62.
  5. Foster, “Creaturely, Cobra,” pp. 6-8.
  6. Appel described his work from 1955 to 1960 as “nightscapes” that merge “paysage” and “visage.” Helena Kontova and Giancarlo Politi, “Karel Appel,” Flash Art, no. 134 (May 1987), p. 53.

 

Jack Tworkov. 'Bond' 1960

 

Jack Tworkov (American, 1900-1982)
Bond
1960
Oil on canvas
154.9 x 91.4cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Jack Tworkov. 'Bond' 1960 (detail)

 

Jack Tworkov (American, 1900-1982)
Bond
(detail)
1960
Oil on canvas
154.9 x 91.4cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Jean Dubuffet. 'Mire G119' 1983

 

Jean Dubuffet (French, 1901-1985)
Mire G119
1983
Acrylic on paper
135.7 x 99.5cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

Modularity, seriality, and repetition – three of his main concerns here – ground us firmly in modernity, in the realm of synthetics and industrial production. Importantly, the title of the series, Mires, has both televisual and physiological connotations: it is French for “test pattern” (a signal used to calibrate television sets), but it also means “sight” as well as “aim,” as in “the sense of focusing sight on a point in an unlimited continuum.” Instead of the visionary, then, the Mires address vision itself. As the artist once wrote, the Mires “represent the spectacles that are offered to our eyes,” by which he meant the myriad optical enticements that bombard viewers in the form of signs, displays, and advertisements. Following from this, we might say that Dubuffet sought in works like Mire G119 to fashion an artistic equivalent for the “mobile,” “dynamic,” “impulsive,” and wholly mediated character of vision in the late twentieth century.

Kelly Baum

 

Richard Diebenkorn. 'Untitled (Ocean Park)' 1983

 

Richard Diebenkorn (American, 1922-1993)
Untitled (Ocean Park)
1983
Acrylic, gouache, crayon, and pasted paper on paper
96.2 x 63.5cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Paul Jenkins. 'Phenomena Spanish Cape' 1975

 

Paul Jenkins (American, 1923-2012)
Phenomena Spanish Cape
1975
Acrylic on canvas
86.7 x 86.7cm
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 2014 Estate of Hans Hofmann / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

Although his paintings seem to share a great deal with those of Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler, Paul Jenkins never counted himself a member of the Color Field school – or indeed, of any school at all. Jenkins moved to New York in 1948, during the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, but relocated to Paris just five years later, joining an artistic community that included Joan Mitchell, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Michel Tapiés, and Wols. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Jenkins absorbed a dizzying array of writing on matters ranging from art and magic to psychoanalysis and Zen Buddhism.1 From this heady brew, he developed a distinctly mystical art that sought to make the invisible visible. The role of the artist, Jenkins believed, was to serve as a conduit, or “medium,” through which memories, emotions, and experiences passed directly onto canvas.2

In 1959-60, Jenkins’s work took a dramatic turn: after visiting a small port on the northeast coast of Spain, near the Cap de Creus, he began to prioritise fluidity as both a style and a concept, a decision that led him to experiment with water-based acrylic. Method played a crucial role in creating the effect of flux that Jenkins sought. In Phenomena Spanish Cape paint is poured directly onto the canvas from a can or watering pot, allowing for continuous, uninterrupted shapes to emerge.3 The downward flow of paint was hastened by gravity but controlled by the artist, who tilted the support right and left, up and down, to encourage the medium in one direction or another. Jenkins used water to mute or lighten tones and ivory knives, which left no discernible trace on the canvas, to spread the paint as it pooled.4 The result is a paradox: a painting born of the artist but from which all evidence of his hand – his labor – has been effaced. Phenomena Spanish Cape suggests expansion, radiation, and suspension. Evoking eddies, clouds, and tides, the sheets of colour seem to swell and drift like the natural events whose appearances they distill.5 We might also recognise in the work’s composition – with its veils of colour that project out from a dominant red mass into areas of white-primed canvas – an aerial view of a peninsula, perhaps the Spanish cape referenced in the title. In all of Jenkins’s paintings after 1960, the title of the work is prefaced by the word “phenomena,” meaning an event of spiritual and subjective import, a snapshot of “ever-changing reality” objectified on canvas.6

Kelly Baum

 

  1. For more on Jenkins’s spiritual and intellectual background, see Albert Elsen, Paul Jenkins (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1973), pp. 20-21, p. 35, 46, 67.
  2. Ibid., p. 19.
  3. Ibid., p. 56. Jenkins first experimented with pouring paint in 1953-54.
  4. For more on the artist’s technique and materials, which he honed, quite literally, to a science, see ibid., pp. 65-76.
  5. On the role of nature in his work, see Jean Cassou, Jenkins (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1963), pp. 13-14.
  6. Ibid., p. 6.

 

Mark Rothko. 'Untitled' 1968

 

Mark Rothko (American, 1903-1970)
Untitled
1968
Oil on paper laid down on canvas
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

Mark Rothko. 'Untitled' 1968 (detail)

 

Mark Rothko (American, 1903-1970)
Untitled (detail)
1968
Oil on paper laid down on canvas
Collection of Preston H. Haskell, Class of 1960
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / photo Douglas J. Eng

 

 

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20
May
14

Exhibition: ‘Wols Photographer. The Guarded Look’ at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 15th March – 22nd June 2014

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Still life - dining table]' 1937

 

Wols (German, 1913-1951)
Untitled [Still life – dining table]
1937
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

 

Some familiar images that were also seen in the posting Wols’ Photography: Images Regained are complimented by 5 new ones. The two portraits of the artist Max Ernst are eerie (is that a suitable word for a portrait that is strong and unsettling?) and perceptive, Wols responsive to the status of his sitter as a pioneer of the Dada movement and Surrealism.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Martin-Gropius-Bau for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Art Informel

The term Art Informel was originated by the French critic Michel Tapié and popularized in his 1952 book Un Art autre (Another art). A Parisian counterpart of Abstract Expressionism, Art Informel emphasised intuition and spontaneity over the Cubist tradition that had dominated School of Paris painting. The resulting abstractions took a variety of forms. For instance, Pierre Soulages’s black-on-black paintings composed of slashing strokes of velvety paint suggest the nocturnal mood of Europe immediately after the war.

 

 

Wols. 'Nicole Bouban' Autumn 1932 - October 1933 / January 1935 to 1937

 

Wols (German, 1913-1951)
Nicole Bouban
Autumn 1932 – October 1933 / January 1935 to 1937
© Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Pavilion de l'Elegance - Creating a home with Alix (Germaine Krebs)]' 1937

 

Wols (German, 1913-1951)
Untitled [Pavilion de l’Elegance – Creating a home with Alix (Germaine Krebs)]
1937
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

 

Germaine Émilie Krebs

Germaine Émilie Krebs (1903-1993), known as Alix Barton and later as “Madame Grès”, relaunched her design house under the name Grès in Paris in 1942. Prior to this, she worked as “Alix” or “Alix Grès” during the 1930s. Formally trained as a sculptress, she produced haute couture designs for an array of fashionable women, including the Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Dolores del Río. Her signature was cut-outs on gowns that made exposed skin part of the design, yet still had a classical, sophisticated feel. She was renowned for being the last of the haute couture houses to establish a ready-to-wear line, which she called a “prostitution”.

The name Grès was a partial anagram of her husband’s first name and alias. He was Serge Czerefkov, a Russian painter, who left her soon after the house’s creation. Grès enjoyed years of critical successes but, after Grès herself sold the business in the 1980s to Yagi Tsucho, a Japanese company, it faltered. In 2012, the last Grès store in Paris was closed.

Text from Wikipedia website

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Swiss Pavilion - Wire Figure]' 1937

 

Wols (German, 1913-1951)
Untitled [Swiss Pavilion – Wire Figure]
1937
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

 

Wolfgang Schulze, known as Wols, was born in Berlin in 1913. As a painter and graphic artist he is considered to have been an important trailblazer of Art Informel. For the first time the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin is presenting the largely unknown photographic oeuvre of Wols. These works foreshadow his development in the direction of non-representational art.

Wols grew up in Dresden, where he had an early encounter with photography as a profession through his attendance at a course in the studio of the Dresden photographer Genja Jonas. In 1932, after a brief sojourn in the milieu of the Berlin Bauhaus – then in the process of breaking up – the young Wols set off for Paris to realise his artistic ambitions.

Soon he was involved with the local Surrealists and made the acquaintance of other personalities in the theatrical, literary and art scenes. In this period Wols was mainly active as a photographer. In 1937 his works were exhibited for the first time in the prestigious Parisian Galérie de la Pléiade, which established his reputation as a photographer. It was at this time that he adopted the pseudonym Wols. One of his commissions was to document the Pavillon de l’Elégance at the 1937 World Exhibition in Paris.

At the same time he produced striking multiple black-and-white portraits of personalities such as Max Ernst, Nicole Boubant or Roger Blin. Over the years Wols’ imagery became increasingly radical. The representational motifs gradually acquired a more abstract dimension and forced the viewer to see the objects represented in a new light. In particular, an extraordinary set of photograms confirms his interest in replacing representational motifs with non-representational ones. Transferred to painting, this trend would later make him a pioneer of Art Informel.

Immediately after the outbreak of the Second World War Wols spent over a year in various internment camps in the south of France. In this period he turned more to watercolours, most of which were lost while he was fleeing from the Nazis.

Living in straitened circumstances Wols fought a losing battle with alcoholism and poor health. In 1951, as a result of his weakened physical condition, he died of food poisoning in Paris at the early age of 38. After his death, Wols’ work was displayed at the first three documenta exhibitions in Kassel (1955, 1959, 1964) and, in 1958, at the Venice Biennale. On 27 May 2014 he would have been 101.

The show covers all of his photographic work, including multiple portraits of famous artists, actors and writers, photographs of the “Pavillon de l’Élégance”, numerous still lifes, and many hitherto unknown motifs. The exhibition has been curated by the Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, where this unique collection will be kept and systematically catalogued.

Press release from Martin-Gropius-Bau website

 

Wols. 'Max Ernst' Fall 1932 - October / January 1935 to 1936

 

Wols (German, 1913-1951)
Max Ernst
Fall 1932 – October / January 1935 to 1936
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Max Ernst' Fall 1932 - October / January 1935 to 1936

 

Wols (German, 1913-1951)
Max Ernst
Fall 1932 – October / January 1935 to 1936
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

 

Wols permanently settled in Paris in 1933, producing his first paintings but also working as a photographer. His photographic work of this period showed the clear influence of Surrealism. In 1936, he received official permission to live in Paris with the help of Fernand Léger; as an army deserter, Schulze had to report to the Paris police on a monthly basis. In 1937, the year in which he adopted his pseudonym WOLS, his photographs began to appear in fashion magazines such as Harper’s BazaarVogueFemina as well as Revue de l’art. Many of these photographs anticipate the displays at the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme held in Paris in the following year, in which much use was made of mannequins.

At the outbreak of World War II Wols, as a German citizen, was interned for 14 months in the notorious Les Milles camp – together with some 3500 other artists and intellectuals. He was not released until late 1940. After his release Wols moved for two years to Cassis, near Marseille, where he struggled to earn a living. The occupation of Southern France by the Germans in 1942 forced him to flee to Dieulefit, near Montélimar, where he met the writer Henri-Pierre Roché, one of his earliest collectors. He spent most of the war trying to emigrate to the United States, an unsuccessful and costly enterprise that may have driven him to alcoholism.

After the war Wols returned to Paris where he met Jean-Paul Sartre, Tristan Tzara and Jean Paulhan. He started to paint in oils in 1946 at the suggestion of the dealer René Drouin, who showed 40 of his paintings at his gallery in 1947. The same year Wols began to work on a number of illustrations for books by Paulhan, Sartre, Franz Kafka and Antonin Artaud. He fell ill but lacked the money to go to hospital, and throughout 1948 he worked largely in bed on these illustrations. In 1949 he took part in the exhibition Huit oeuvres nouvelles at the Galerie Drouin, along with Jean Dubuffet, Roberto Matta, Henri Michaux and other artists with whom he had a stylistic affinity.

Undergoing treatment for alcoholism, he moved to the country at Champigny-sur-Marne in June 1951. His early death later that year from food poisoning helped foster the legendary reputation that grew up around him soon afterwards. His paintings helped pioneer Art informel and Tachism, which dominated European art during and after the 1950s as a European counterpart to American Abstract Expressionism. Influenced by the writings of the philosopher Lao Tzu throughout his life, Wols also wrote poems and aphorisms that expressed his aesthetic and philosophical ideas.”

Text from the Weimar blog 2010

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Paris - Flea Market]' Autumn 1932 - October 1933 / January 1935 to 1936

 

Wols (German, 1913-1951)
Untitled [Paris – Flea Market]
Autumn 1932 – October 1933 / January 1935 to 1936
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Paris - Palisade]' Fall 1932 - October 1933 / January 1935 - August 1939

 

Wols (German, 1913-1951)
Untitled [Paris – Palisade]
Fall 1932 – October 1933 / January 1935 – August 1939
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Paris - Eiffel Tower]' 1937

 

Wols (German, 1913-1951)
Untitled [Paris – Eiffel Tower]
1937
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Untitled [Still Life - Grapefruit]' 1938 - August 1939

 

Wols (German, 1913-1951)
Untitled [Still Life – Grapefruit]
1938 – August 1939
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Wols. 'Self Portrait with Hat' 1937-38

 

Wols (German, 1913-1951)
Self Portrait with Hat
1937-38
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

 

Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin
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07
Aug
13

Exhibition: ‘Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light’ at The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 6th March – 12th August 2013

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Parlourmaid Preparing a Bath before Dinner' c. 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Parlourmaid Preparing a Bath before Dinner
c. 1936
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 x 7 11/16″ (23 x 19.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

“Brandt ranks among the visionaries who, in the diversity of their approach, established the creative potential of photography based on observation of the world around them. Brandt’s distinctive vision – his ability to present the mundane world as fresh and strange – emerged in London in the 1930s, and drew from his time in the Paris studio of Man Ray. His visual explorations of the society, landscape, and literature of England are indispensable to any understanding of photographic history and, arguably, to our understanding of life in Britain during the middle of the 20th century.”

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Text from the press release

 

 

Along with Julia Margaret Cameron, Bill Brandt is the greatest British photographer of all time.

Why is it so?

  1. There is the diversity of his approach over decades of artistic endeavour, from social documentary, portrait and landscape photography to nudes.
  2. There is a consistency to this enquiry. He is concerned with the same ideas in the 1930s as the 1960s, only expressed in a different form.
  3. There is a subtle ambiguity to all his work, no doubt influenced by his time in the Paris studio of Man Ray.
    For example, in the portrait of Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal (1937, below), there is an odd sense of surrealism to the mise-en-scène. Notice the placement of the objects on the table, the positioning of both people’s heads with the jardiniere between, and the askance attitude of the satchel and framed image covered by drying, hanging clothes on the wall behind. And then, just to emphasise this pictorial disjunction, we notice that the miner is leaning one way and, in the framed image, another man with a tie is leaning the other, peering around  the edge of the drying clothes. The man and wife and the framed man for a triangle within the pictorial plane
  4. There is his understanding of light. Look at any of the images in this posting – Bombed Regency Staircase, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair (c. 1942, below), Evening in Kenwood (c. 1934, below) etc… and marvel at Brandt’s “ability to present the mundane world as fresh and strange.” Looking at the light of the world with a sense of wonder!
  5. And his understanding of “perspective”.
    Brandt is not afraid of the out of focus photograph as long as it gives him the “feeling” that he wants from the image. For example, see Losing at the Horse Races, Auteuil, Paris (c. 1932, below), shot from below, quickly, to capture the pensiveness of loosing money.
    Brandt is not afraid of foreshortening as in the photographs Evening in Kenwood (c. 1934, below) or A Snicket in Halifax (1937, below), where the use of this device leads the viewers eye into the body of the image.
    Brandt is also not afraid of a shallow depth of field or of placing objects or people right in the forefront of the image in order to create a complex picture plane. For example, in Kensington Children’s Party (c. 1934, below) the two children at bottom right are completely out of focus but hold up that corner of the image and give the image the stability and energy it needs to lead the eye into the small, frontal boy and the suspended balloons. Notice the really shallow depth of field, as only the girl at extreme right and a small number of balloons are in focus. Another later and more extreme example is the photograph Seaford, East Sussex Coast (1957, below) and the distortions in his book Perspective of Nudes (1961) – “a series that is both personal and universal, sensual and strange… rendering what might otherwise have been hopelessly clichéd aspects of the female form unfamiliar and surprising.

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Brandt’s skewed perspectives are not only literal but also have psychological undertones. His work challenges traditional ideas of identity, place and time and makes the mundane seem fresh and strange. Over and over again. These photographs remain as fresh today as the day they were taken BECAUSE OF THE COMPLEXITY OF THOUGHT THAT LIES BEHIND EACH IMAGE.

Many a photographer could do no better than study the work of this incredible artist. I see so many images in Melbourne and from around the world that really say nothing and go nowhere, because of a lack of understanding of what is POSSIBLE when making a photograph, when telling a story. Rules are there to be broken, out of focus, shallow depth of field, complex pictures, complex thoughts succinctly and elegantly told. For Brandt in any photograph, the artifice necessary to make a work was irrelevant so long as he felt the picture rang true. That does not mean lazy story telling, poor conceptualisation, bland visual construction.

As a good friend of mine artist Joyce Evans is fond of saying, “There is no excuse for bad photography.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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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.

 

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal
1937
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 x 7 3/8″ (22.2 x 18.8cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

brandt-northumbrian-b-web

 

brandt-northumbrian-a-web

 

Analysis of Brandt’s visual exploration in Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal (1937)

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Packaging Post for the War' c. 1942

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Packaging Post for the War
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
8 3/16 x 7 13/16″ (20.8 x 19.9cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Mark Levine
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Liverpool Street Underground Station Shelter' 1940

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Liverpool Street Underground Station Shelter
1940
Gelatin silver print
11 11/16 x 9 11/16″ (29.7 x 24.6cm)
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Kensington Children's Party' c. 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Kensington Children’s Party
c. 1934
Gelatin silver print
8 5/8 x 7 3/16″ (21.9 x 18.3cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of David Dechman and Michel Mercure
© 2012 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Evening in Kenwood' c. 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Evening in Kenwood
c. 1934
Gelatin silver print
9 x 7 3/4″ (22.9 x 19.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the generosity of David Dechman and Michel Mercure and the Committee on Photography Fund.
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art presents Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light, a major critical reevaluation of the heralded career of Bill Brandt (British b. Germany, 1904-83) from March 6 to August 12, 2013. A founding figure in photography’s modernist traditions, Brandt ranks among the visionaries who, in the diversity of their approach, established the creative potential of photography based on observation of the world around them. Brandt’s distinctive vision – his ability to present the mundane world as fresh and strange – emerged in London in the 1930s, and drew from his time in the Paris studio of Man Ray. His visual explorations of the society, landscape, and literature of England are indispensable to any understanding of photographic history and, arguably, to our understanding of life in Britain during the middle of the 20th century. Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light is organised by Sarah Meister, Curator, with Drew Sawyer, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow, Department of Photography.

The impressive breadth of Brandt’s career, which suggests his restless experimental impulse, and the dramatic transformations of his printing style have often confounded those seeking to understand the link between the highly celebrated and seemingly unrelated chapters of his oeuvre. The exhibition brings together more than 150 works divided into six sections, each corresponding with a distinct aspect of Brandt’s achievement: London in the Thirties; Northern England; World War II; Portraits; Landscapes; and Nudes. Beginning with a highly selective display of albums and prints made around the European continent as Brandt was forming his artistic identity, the exhibition presents an opportunity to understand Brandt in a new light: one that establishes a chronological trajectory of his career, with an expanded consideration of his activity during World War II. In addition, a closer look at his printing methods with the finest known prints from across the range of Brandt’s career will clarify how the artist, whose early work is characterised by the muted, wistful portrait of a young housewife scrubbing the threshold to her home (East End Morning, 1937), would come to create a bold and unpredictable series of nudes on the rocky English coast (East Sussex Coast, 1957).

Brandt established his reputation before the Second World War with the publication of The English at Home (1936) and A Night in London (1938), books that distilled his early photographic studies of life in Britain. Noted works from this period on view include: Parlourmaid Preparing a Bath before Dinner (c. 1936); Soho Bedroom (1934); Street Scene, London (1936); and Losing at the Horse Races, Auteuil, Paris (c. 1932), which Brandt later re-titled Racegoers in Sandown Park in order to present it in the context of his English pictures, an expression of his disdain for slavish adherence to facts.

During this same period, Brandt ventured to several industrial towns in northern England to witness firsthand the impact of the Depression. Striking images from this group, including Snicket in Halifax (1937), Coal-Searcher Coming Home from Jarrow (1937), and Northumbrian Miner at His Evening Meal (1937), bear unequivocal witness to the devastating unemployment that plagued the region at the time, but there is a subtle ambiguity to many of these images that suggests Brandt found the artistic potential of these soot-blackened structures and faces competing for his attention.

Brandt’s activity during the Second World War – long distilled by Brandt and others to a handful of now-iconic pictures of moonlit London during the Blackout and improvised shelters during the Blitz – are presented for the first time in the context of his assignments for the leading illustrated magazines of his day, establishing a key link between his pre- and postwar work. In addition to photographs such as Liverpool Street Underground Station Shelter (1940) and Deserted Street in Bloomsbury (1942), this section includes lesser-known works from the period such as: Bombed Regency Staircase, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair (c. 1942); Packaging Post for the War (c. 1942); and a suite of extraordinary wartime portraits.

Brandt’s assignments for Picture Post and Lilliput magazines, as well as Harper’s Bazaar (UK and US), led variously into extended investigations of portraiture and landscape photography, with a strong emphasis on contemporary literary figures in Britain and the country’s rich literary heritage. A solemn, vaguely distracted expression became a hallmark of Brandt’s portraiture, and notable examples on view include Dylan Thomas, Norman Douglas, Evelyn Waugh, Reg Butler, Harold Pinter, Martin Amis, Tom Stoppard, Vanessa Redgrave, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, and Francis Bacon.

Brandt’s crowning artistic achievement – published as Perspective of Nudes in 1961 – is a series that is both personal and universal, sensual and strange, collectively exemplifying the “sense of wonder”, to quote Brandt, that is paramount in his photographs. His extended investigation of the female nude remains his most original and memorable work, defying preconceived notions of the genre with his choice of settings (inhospitably barren seashores or prim Victorian interiors that conflated the domestic and the sexual in lieu of sterile, but safe, studios), as well as the extreme exaggeration of his distortions, cropping, and printing styles, rendering what might otherwise have been hopelessly clichéd aspects of the female form unfamiliar and surprising. On view are over 40 photographs from this period, including four prints of his iconic London (1952), which together suggest Brandt’s willingness to reinterpret even the most supremely resolved images in his oeuvre.

Through a rigorous analysis of each chapter of Brandt’s career across a half century of work, the exhibition clarifies the achievement of this towering figure in photography’s modernist tradition.

Press release from the MoMA website

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Bombed Regency Staircase, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair' c. 1942

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Bombed Regency Staircase, Upper Brook Street, Mayfair
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
9 x 7 5/8″ (22.8 x 19.4cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the generosity of Clarissa A. Bronfman
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'A Snicket in Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
A Snicket in Halifax
1937
Gelatin silver print
9 x 7 11/16″ (22.9 x 19.6cm)
Carl Jacobs Fund
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Street Scene, London' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Street Scene, London
1936
Gelatin silver print
9 1/16 x 7 11/16″ (23 x 19.6cm)
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

 

This picture, first published in Brandt’s book A Night in London in 1938, recalls the work of the Hungarian-born photographer Brassaï, who had a particular talent for capturing illicit, marginalised, or unconventional activity in the lamplit streets of Paris. Many of Brandt’s pictures, however, feature his family members playing roles. Here he placed his brother and sister-in-law, Rolf and Esther Brandt, in front of a large poster. Using a nearby streetlight or perhaps his own floodlight, Brandt cast Rolf’s profile in melodramatic shadow. The artifice necessary to make a work was irrelevant for Brandt so long as he felt the picture rang true.

Text from MoMA website

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Soho Bedroom' 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Soho Bedroom
1934
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 x 7 9/16″ (22.2 x 19.2cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Michèle Gerber Klein
© 2013 Estate of Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Haworth Churchyard' 1945

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Haworth Churchyard
1945
Gelatin silver print
8 15/16 x 7 11/16″ (22.7 x 19.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the generosity of Jon L. Stryker.
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Losing at the Horse Races, Auteuil, Paris' c. 1932

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Losing at the Horse Races, Auteuil, Paris
c. 1932
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 x 6 15/16″ (21.3 x 17.6cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of Edwynn Houk
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Jean Dubuffet' 1960

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Jean Dubuffet
1960
Gelatin silver print
8 3/8 x 7 1/4″ (21.3 x 18.4cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. John Parkinson III Fund
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'London' 1954

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
London
1954
Gelatin silver print
9 1/8 x 7 3/4″ (23.1 x 19.7cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the generosity of Clarissa Alcock Bronfman and Richard E. Salomon
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Bill Brandt A Perspective of Nudes 1961

A book that looks back to Kertesz’s Distortions and forward to the psychedelia of the late 60s. As Vince Aletti writes in The Book of 101 Books, Brandt “conjure[d] a dream world of skewed perspectives in which his nude female subjects appeared to float unanchored or loom like giants.” Parr and Badger writing in The Photobook: A History, vol. 1, assert that these images “rewrote the language of nude photography in not one, but several quarters… [they are] as interesting for their psychological undertones as for the wealth of unexpected forms he conjured… Brandt pictured a world of faded grandeur, of Edwardian bourgeois homes metamorphosing into 1940s bedsit land – cavernous refuges for European émigrés or bohemian nonconformists.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany. 1904-1983) 'Seaford, East Sussex Coast' 1957

 

Bill Brandt (British born Germany, 1904-1983)
Seaford, East Sussex Coast
1957
Gelatin silver print
9 x 7 11/16″ (22.9 x 19.5cm)
The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of David Dechman and Michel Mercure
© 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

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08
Sep
12

Exhibition: ‘Art of Another Kind: International Abstraction and the Guggenheim, 1949-1960’ at the Guggenheim Museum, New York

Exhibition dates: 8th June 8 – 12th September 2012

 

Grace Hartigan.
 'Ireland' 1958


 

Grace Hartigan
 (American, 1922-2008)
Ireland
1958
Oil on canvas
200 x 271cm
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
© Grace Hartigan Estate

 

 

This is pure indulgence. These paintings are so delicious I couldn’t resist a posting. Just imagine having ANY of them (especially the Hartigan, de Kooning or the Soulanges) on your wall at home… oh my!

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Guggenheim Museum for allowing me to publish the pictures in the posting. Please click on the pictures to see a larger version of the image.

 

 

 

Alberto Burri (Italian, 1915-1995) 'Composition' 1953

 

Alberto Burri (Italian, 1915-1995)
Composition
1953
Burlap, thread, synthetic polymer paint, gold leaf, and PVA on black fabric
86 x 100.4cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
© Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello/2018 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome

 

 

In 1943 Alberto Burri, a doctor in the Italian army, was captured by the British and sat out the remainder of World War II in a Texas POW camp. He began to paint there, covering his stretchers with burlap when other materials were unavailable. Upon his return to Italy in 1946 Burri renounced his original profession and dedicated himself to making art.

Composition is one of his Sacchi (sacks), a group of collage constructions made from burlap bags mounted on stretchers, which the artist began making in 1949. One of Burri’s first series employing nontraditional mediums, the Sacchi were initially considered assaults against the established aesthetic canon. His use of the humble bags may be seen as a declaration of the inherent beauty of natural, ephemeral materials, in contradistinction to traditional “high” art mediums, which are respected for their ostentation and permanence. Early commentators suggested that the patchwork surfaces of the Sacchi metaphorically signified living flesh violated during warfare – the stitching was linked to the artist’s practice as a physician. Others suggested that the hardships of life in postwar Italy predicated the artist’s redeployment of the sacks in which relief supplies were sent to the country.

Yet Burri maintained that his use of materials was determined purely by the formal demands of his constructions. “If I don’t have one material, I use another. It is all the same,” he said in 1976. “I choose to use poor materials to prove that they could still be useful. The poorness of a medium is not a symbol: it is a device for painting.” The title Composition emphasises the artist’s professed concern with issues of construction, not metaphor. Underlying the work is a rigorous compositional structure that belies the mundane impermanence of his chosen mediums and points to art-historical influences. The Sacchi rely on lessons learned from the Cubist- and Dada-inspired constructions of Kurt Schwitters.

Despite Burri’s cool public stance, the Sacchi are examples of the Expressionism widely practiced in postwar Europe, where such work was called Art Informel (in the U.S. it was called Abstract Expressionism). Artists used powerfully rendered gestures and accommodated chance occurrences to express the existential angst characteristic of the period.

Jennifer Blessing

Text from the Guggenheim website

 

Antoni Tàpies (Spanish, 1923-2012) 'Great Painting' 1958

 

Antoni Tàpies (Spanish, 1923-2012)
Great Painting
1958
Oil with marble dust and sand on canvas
79 x 103 1/2 inches (200.7 x 262.9cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
© 2018 Fundació Antoni Tàpies/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VEGAP, Madrid

 

 

In the years after World War II, both Europe and America saw the rise of predominantly abstract painting concerned with materials and the expression of gesture and marking. New Yorkers dubbed the development in the United States Abstract Expressionism, while the French named the pan-European phenomenon of gestural painting Art Informel. A variety of the latter was Tachisme, from the French word tache, meaning blot or stain. Antoni Tàpies was among the artists to receive the label Tachiste because of the rich texture and pooled colour that seemed to occur accidentally on his canvases.

Tàpies reevaluated humble materials, things of the earth such as sand – which he used in Great Painting (Gran pintura, 1958) – and straw as well as the refuse of humanity such as string and bits of fabric. By calling attention to this seemingly inconsequential matter, he suggested that beauty can be found in unlikely places. Tàpies saw his works as objects of meditation that every viewer will interpret according to personal experience; he sought to inspire a contemplative reaction to reality through the integration of materials unexpected in fine art.

These images often resemble walls that have been scuffed and marred by human intervention and the passage of time. In Great Painting, an ocher skin appears to hang off the surface of the canvas; violence is suggested by the gouge and puncture marks in the dense stratum. These markings recall the scribbling of graffiti, perhaps referring to the public walls covered with slogans and images of protest that the artist saw as a youth in Catalonia – a region in Spain that experienced the harshest repression under dictator Francisco Franco. Tàpies called walls the “witnesses of the martyrdoms and inhuman sufferings inflicted on our people.”1 Great Painting suggests the artist’s poetic memorial to those who have perished and those who have endured.

Jennifer Blessing

1. Antoni Tàpies, La pratique de l’art (Paris: Gallimard, 1974), p. 59.

Text from the Guggenheim website

 

Kenzo Okada (Japanese, 1902-1982) 'Decision' 1956

 

Kenzo Okada (Japanese, 1902-1982)
Decision
1956
Oil on canvas
67 3/4 x 80 inches (172.8 x 203.2cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Gift, Susan Morse Hilles, 1981
© Kenzo Okada

 

 

After Kenzo Okada relocated from Tokyo to New York in 1950, his work came to represent a melding of Japanese traditions and American abstract trends. Rather than striving for pure abstraction, his work from the 1950s could be called “semi-abstract,” evoking the natural world through carefully composed form and a decidedly muted palette. These works are subtle, quiet, and poetic – more meditative in nature than the energetic gestural abstractions of some of his American-born counterparts. The composition of Decision (1956) is also organised to suggest natural topography. Blocky, softly defined shapes organically arrange the canvas into rough horizontal registers, creating a panoramic quality reminiscent of landscape painting. Meanwhile, small, irregular shapes hover and tumble rhythmically across the stable ground. Okada thus seeks a balance between heavy and delicate, tangible and abstract.

Text from the Guggenheim website

 

José Guerrero. 'Signs and Portents' 1956


 

José Guerrero (Spanish, 1914-1991)
Signs and Portents
1956
Oil on canvas
175.9 x 250.2cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VEGAP, Madrid
© The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

 

Kumi Sugaï (Japan, 1919-1996) 'Shiro' June 1957

 

Kumi Sugaï (Japan, 1919-1996)
Shiro
June 1957
Oil on canvas
63 5/8 x 51 inches (161.6 x 129.5 cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
© Kumi Sugaï

 

 

Kumi Sugaï lived and worked in Paris from 1952 until his death. Revered both in his native Japan and France, he used his early fascination with modern typography and his knowledge of East Asian calligraphy in his work. Combining and reinventing traditional aesthetics and contemporary forms, Sugaï reveals his syncretic approach to abstract painting in Shiro (June 1957). Here, his palette is restricted essentially to black, white, and blue, and the composition is at once spare and dynamic. The painting’s title is a reference to its central black form, the ideogram shiro, which means white. He has enlarged the character to occupy the entire composition and placed this abstract form on a white ground, both evoking and distorting its original calligraphic source.

Text from the Guggenheim website

 

Giuseppe Capogrossi (Italian, 1900-1972) 'Surface 210' 1957

 

Giuseppe Capogrossi (Italian, 1900-1972)
Surface 210
1957
Oil on canvas
81 1/4 x 63 inches (206.4 x 160cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome

 

 

A decisive shift in Giuseppe Capogrossi’s career took place in 1949, when he moved away from figurative, tonal painting and experimented with an abstract geometric style that led to the development of a vocabulary of irregular comb- or fork-shaped signs. With no allegorical, psychological, or symbolic meaning, these structural elements could be assembled and connected in countless variations. Intricate and insistent, Capogrossi’s signs determined the construction of the pictorial surface. Similar to mysterious lists or sequences, his paintings were immediate in their appeal yet remained hard to decode, a quality he shared with other Art Informel practitioners. These abstract comb-sign paintings, known simply as Surfaces (Superficies, 1949-72), were first exhibited at the Galleria del secolo, Rome, in 1950. The comb sign dominated his oeuvre until the end of his career.

Text from the Guggenheim website

 

Takeo Yamaguchi.
 'Work - Yellow (Unstable Square [Fuantei shikaku])' 1958


 

Takeo Yamaguchi
 (Japanese, 1902-1983)
Work – Yellow (Unstable Square [Fuantei shikaku])
1958
Oil on plywood
182.6 x 182.6cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
© Takeo Yamaguchi

 

 

In his native Japan, Takeo Yamaguchi was a pioneer of modern abstract painting. This focus led him to spend time in France, where he was much influenced by the work of Cubist practitioners in Paris, until he returned to Japan in 1931. In the 1950s, Yamaguchi began executing works consisting of simple, geometric forms – largely yellow, ochre, or russet in color – painted on a black background. His thick pigments added texture to the monochromatic compositions, and as seen in Work – Yellow (Unstable Square [Fuantei shikaku], 1958), Yamaguchi’s abstract shapes increasingly dominated the canvas. It is noteworthy that the painting was prominently displayed on the ground floor of the Guggenheim’s rotunda during the 1959 inaugural exhibition, attesting to then-director James Johnson Sweeney’s keen interest in Yamaguchi’s work.

Text from the Guggenheim website

 

Pierre Soulages.
 'Painting, November 20, 1956 (Peinture, 20 novembre 1956)' 1956

 

Pierre Soulages
 (French, b. 1919)
Painting, November 20, 1956 (Peinture, 20 novembre 1956)
1956
Oil on canvas
195 x 130.2cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

 

 

Pierre Soulages, a leading proponent of Tachisme (from the French word tache, meaning blot or stain), maintained that he decided to become a painter while inside the church of Sainte-Foy in Conques-en-Rouergue, near his birthplace in the South of France. The impressions of monumentality, stability, primitive force, and clearly organised volumes characteristic of the Romanesque style, as well as the mystery and sobriety of dark church interiors, were metaphorically transmitted in his mature style. Early on he was also drawn to the work of Claude Lorraine and Rembrandt van Rijn, whose rendering of light had an impact on his development. In 1938 he moved to Paris to prepare for the entrance exam to the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, but he soon abandoned his traditional studies at the school as a result of seeing exhibitions of the work of Paul Cézanne and Pablo Picasso and visiting the Louvre.

In his earliest work Soulages took leafless winter trees as his point of departure. Their essential, reduced network of branches – which Soulages regarded as abstract sculpture – provided him with an ideal vehicle for the exploration of structure and variation. During the German occupation of France, he met Sonia Delaunay, who introduced him to abstract art and set him on a new path. By the mid 1950s, Soulages had switched from a small brush, with which he had painted abstract calligraphic patterns, to palette knives, straightedges, and large house-painting brushes. These tools afforded him a greater range of motion in his wrist, allowing him to produce bold, dynamic strokes that resulted in a more gestural surface. Throughout his career, Soulages painted in a predominately black palette in order to explore the contrasts of light and shade, which endowed his paintings both an architectonic and a sculptural quality. In Painting, November 20, 1956 (Peinture, 20 novembre 1956, 1956), Soulages divided his canvas into three horizontal registers, articulating each with a repetition of slab-like black shapes that reveal a variety of red and brown nuances, as well as a certain luminosity.

Text from the Guggenheim website

 

 

From June 8 to September 12, 2012, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum presents Art of Another Kind: International Abstraction and the Guggenheim, 1949-1960. Comprising approximately 100 works by nearly 70 artists, the exhibition explores international trends in abstraction in the decade before the Guggenheim’s iconic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building opened in October 1959, when vanguard artists working in the United States and Europe pioneered such influential art forms as Abstract Expressionism, Cobra, and Art Informel. In the 1950s, many countries ended their postwar isolationism and entered a phase of cultural openness and internationalism. The prominent French art critic Michel Tapié declared the existence of un art autre (art of another kind), a term embracing a mosaic of styles, but essentially signifying an avant-garde art that rejected a connection with any tradition or past idiom. With works by Karel Appel, Louise Bourgeois, Alberto Burri, Eduardo Chillida, Lucio Fontana, Grace Hartigan, Asger Jorn, Yves Klein, Willem de Kooning, Georges Mathieu, Isamu Noguchi, Kenzo Okada, Jackson Pollock, Pierre Soulages, Antoni Tàpies, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Takeo Yamaguchi, and Zao Wou-Ki, among others, the exhibition considers the artistic developments of the post-World War II period and draws greater attention to lesser-known artists in the museum?s collection alongside those long since canonised.

Abstract Expressionism encompasses a diverse range of postwar American painting that challenged the tradition of vertical easel painting. Beginning in the late 1940s, Pollock placed his canvases on the floor to pour, drip, and splatter paint onto them. This gestural act, with variations practiced by William Baziotes, De Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, and others, was termed “Action painting” by American critic Harold Rosenberg, who considered it a product of the artist’s unconscious outpouring or the enactment of some personal drama. The New York school, as these artists were called due to the city’s postwar transformation into an international nexus for vanguard art, expanded in the 1950s with the unique contributions of such painters as James Brooks and Hartigan, as well as energetic collagist-assemblers Conrad Marca-Relli and Robert Rauschenberg. Other painters eliminated the gestural stroke altogether. Mark Rothko used large planes of colour, often to express universal human emotions and inspire a sense of awe for a secular world. Welder-sculptors such as Herbert Ferber and Theodore Roszak are also counted among the decade’s pioneering artists.

The postwar European avant-garde in many ways paralleled the expressive tendencies and untraditional methods of their transatlantic counterparts, though their cultural contexts differed. For artists in Spain, abstract art signified political liberation. Dissenting Italian artists correspondingly turned to abstraction against the renewed popularity of politicised realism. French artist Jean Dubuffet’s spontaneous approach, Art Brut (Raw art), retained figurative elements but radically opposed official culture, instead favouring the spontaneous and direct works of untrained individuals. His work influenced the Cobra group (1948-51), which was founded by Appel, Jorn, and other artists from Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam. The Cobra artists preferred thickly painted surfaces that married realism to lively colour and expressive line in a new form of primitivism.

Eventually taking root in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain, Art Informel refers to the anti-geometric, anti-naturalistic, and nonfigurative formal preoccupations of many European avant-garde artists, and their pursuit of spontaneity, looseness of form, and the irrational. Art Informel is alternatively known by several French terms: Abstraction lyrique (Lyrical Abstraction), Art autre (Art of another kind), matiérisme (matter art), and Tachisme (from tache, meaning blot or stain). The movement includes the work of Burri and Tàpies, who employed unorthodox materials like burlap or sand and focused on the transformative qualities of matter. Asian émigré artists Kumi Sugaï and Zao were likewise central to the postwar École de Paris (School of Paris) and melded their native traditions with modern painting styles. By the end of the 1950s, artists such as Lucio Fontana, Klein, and Piero Manzoni were exploring scientific, objective, and interactive approaches, and introduced pure monochrome surfaces. Other abstractionists engaged viewers’ senses and explored dematerialisation, focusing on optical transformations as opposed to the art object itself, and investigating the effects of motion, light, and colour.

Through the presentation of these varied styles and innovative developments in the post-World War II years, Art of Another Kind especially highlights paintings and sculptures that entered the Guggenheim collection under James Johnson Sweeney, the museum’s second director (1952-60). Following Solomon R. Guggenheim’s death in 1949 and the end of founding director and curator Hilla Rebay’s tenure in 1952, Sweeney championed emerging avant-garde artists and augmented the museum’s existing modern holdings with new works. Sweeney had stated, “I do not believe in the so-called ‘tastemakers,’ … but in what I would call ‘tastebreakers,’ the people who break open and enlarge our artistic frontiers.” His program of exhibitions and acquisitions considerably broadened the museum’s scope, and his vision included reconsidering the founding collection assembled by Solomon and Irene Guggenheim under Rebay’s guidance by uniting the abstract works by Vasily Kandinsky and other modernists with rarely seen representational works for a more complex perspective of the avant-garde in the first half of the twentieth century. Recently, the Guggenheim Museum highlighted his contributions to the institution in The Sweeney Decade: Acquisitions at the 1959 Inaugural, an exhibition featuring a selection of works that were first unveiled at the 1959 show in the museum’s new Wright building. On view in 2009 as part of the museum’s 50th-anniversary celebrations, The Sweeney Decade featured 24 paintings and sculptures from the 1950s collected under his leadership. Art of Another Kind offers a more comprehensive elaboration of his vision along with works that were added to the collection after his tenure.

 

Exhibition installation

While the exhibition explores individual styles, diversity within abstraction, and artists often working independently of established groups or affiliations, works are loosely organised according to artists’ locus of activity and stylistic trends: New York school; Art Brut and Cobra; School of Paris; Spanish and Italian Informalism; Kinetic art; and, finally, late 1950s experiments with matiérisme, performance-based painting, and the monochrome. Highlights within the installation include Outburst (Éclatement, 1956) by Judit Reigl, newly acquired in 2012, and Alexander Calder’s Red Lily Pads (Nénuphars rouges, 1956), suspended in the upper ramps and visible from the rotunda floor below. The exhibition also includes the work of 11 living artists.

Visitors will have the opportunity to browse through historic exhibition catalogues produced by the first full-time publications department established during Sweeney’s tenure. Designed by the Swiss-born typographer and designer Herbert Matter, catalogues from the era helped shape the museum’s visual identity and chronicle the development of the art championed by the Guggenheim under Sweeney in the 1950s. Selected books will be available in the museum at iPad stations and online at https://www.guggenheim.org/publications

Extensive content related to the exhibition will be available on the Guggenheim’s website, which features a selection of supporting materials from the museum’s archives, including letters between artists and director James Johnson Sweeney, invitations to exhibitions, and historic photos of Guggenheim exhibitions. In addition, 20 works and several exhibition themes will be explored through short texts. Multimedia content including video footage and interviews with the curators will be added to the site once the exhibition opens to the public.

Press release from the Guggenheim Museum website

 

Mark Rothko.
 'Untitled (Violet, Black, Orange, Yellow on White and Red)' 1949


 

Mark Rothko
 (American, 1903-1970)
Untitled (Violet, Black, Orange, Yellow on White and Red)
1949
Oil on canvas
207 x 167.6cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Gift, Elane and Werner Dannheisser and The Dannheisser Foundation
© 2012 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Jackson Pollock (American, 1912-1956) 'Untitled (Green Silver)' c. 1949

 

Jackson Pollock (American, 1912-1956)
Untitled (Green Silver)
c. 1949
Enamel and aluminum paint on paper, mounted to canvas
22 3/4 x 30 3/4 inches (57.8 x 78.1cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Gift, Sylvia and Joseph Slifka, 2004
© 2018 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

In the decades following World War II, a new artistic vanguard emerged, particularly in New York, that introduced radical new directions in art. The war and its aftermath were at the underpinnings of the movement that became known as Abstract Expressionism. These artists, anxiously aware of human irrationality and vulnerability, expressed their concerns in an abstract art that chronicled the ardor and exigencies of modern life. Their heroic aspirations are most evident in Jackson Pollock’s innovative “drip” paintings that forever altered the course of American art.

Arriving in New York in 1930 from the West Coast, Pollock began working with figuration of both human and imaginary beings. Most of this imagery was connected to that of American Indian sand painting and the Mexican muralists he saw as a youth and that reemerged through psychoanalysis to treat his lifelong alcoholism. His first fully mature works – dating between 1942 and 1947 – use an idiosyncratic iconography he developed in part as a response to Surrealism, popular in New York with its numerous European exiles from World War II. Employing mythical subject matter, calligraphic markings, and a vibrant and distinctive colour palette, Pollock produced emotionally charged works that retain figurative subject matter yet emphasise abstract qualities. Arising from this confluence of abstraction and figuration are Pollock’s breakthrough works, commonly perceived as pure abstraction and made over the course of an explosive period between late 1947 and 1950 as represented by Untitled (Green Silver). At the time, he also broke free from the standard use of implements, usually abandoning their direct contact with the surface. Working from above the picture plane, he dripped and poured enamel paints on canvases and papers, a method that more precisely controlled the application of line. His preference for the technique of fluid paint spilling from the can or drizzling from the tips of sticks or trowels was heralded by critic Harold Rosenberg as “action painting.” These unconventional working methods and his own physical presence while creating these works have assumed epic proportions. In the last four years of his life – he died in an automobile accident on August 11, 1956 – he produced significantly fewer works, with each further refining his pouring method. Compositionally, they hark back to his earlier style through the reintroduction of figurative elements as in Ocean Greyness, which also addresses his allover abstract technique. Its dramatic, swirling forms set against a dark ground recall Pollock’s Eyes in the Heat (1946).

Text from the Guggenheim website

 

Emilio Vedova (Italian, 1919-2006) 'Image of Time (Barrier)' 1951

 

Emilio Vedova (Italian, 1919-2006)
Image of Time (Barrier)
1951
Egg tempera on canvas
51 3/8 x 67 1/8 inches (130.5 x 170.4cm)
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 1976
© Emilio Vedova

 

 

Emilio Vedova produced art in response to contemporary social upheavals, however his political position was contrary to that of his early modern counterparts, the Italian Futurists, who coalesced as a group in the years preceding World War I. While the Futurists romantically celebrated the aggressive energies inherent in societal conflict and technological advancement, Vedova’s feverish, violent canvases convey – in abstract terms – his horror and moral protestation in the face of man’s assault on his own kind.

Vedova expressed a political consciousness in his work for the first time during the late 1930s, when his works were inspired by the Spanish Civil War. His continuing commitment to social issues gave rise to series such as Cycle of Protest (Ciclo della protesta, 1956) and Image of Time (Immagine del tempo, 1946-59). Although the motivation behind Image of Time (Barrier) (Sbarramento) is political, its formal preoccupations parallel those of the American Abstract Expressionists, namely Franz Kline. The drama of the angular, graphic slashes of black on white is heightened with accents of orange-red. Occupying a shallow space, pictorial elements are locked together in formal combat and emotional turmoil.

Text from the Guggenheim website

 

Georges Mathieu (French, 1921-2012) 'Painting' 1952

 

Georges Mathieu (French, 1921-2012)
Painting
1952
Oil on canvas
78 3/4 x 118 inches (200 x 299.7cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

A key figure of the postwar art scene in Paris as well as a champion – and competitor – of the burgeoning movement of Abstract Expressionist painters in New York, Georges Mathieu practiced a mode of gestural abstraction that was decidedly calligraphic. His paintings were executed with controlled force, resulting in a matrix of lines bursting from a single point and thrusting outward in every direction, as seen in Painting (Peinture, 1952). The artist often squeezed paint directly from tubes onto the canvas and emphasised the necessity of rapid application in order to harness an intuitive expression. Mathieu also occasionally introduced a performative dimension to his painting in the 1950s, executing large canvases before audiences. This merger of painting and performance anticipated the work of Yves Klein and others in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Text from the Guggenheim website

 

Jackson Pollock. 'Ocean Greyness' 1953

 

Jackson Pollock (American, 1912-1956)
Ocean Greyness
1953
Oil on canvas
57 3/4 x 90 1/8 inches (146.7 x 229cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
© 2016 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

The critical debate that surrounded Abstract Expressionism during the late 1940s was embodied in the work of Jackson Pollock. Clement Greenberg, a leading critic and Pollock’s champion, professed that each discrete art form should, above all else, aspire to a demonstration of its own intrinsic properties and not encroach on the domains of other art forms. A successful painting, he believed, affirmed its inherent two-dimensionality and aimed toward complete abstraction. At the same time, however, the critic Harold Rosenberg was extolling the subjective quality of art; fervent brushstrokes were construed as expressions of an artist’s inner self, and the abstract canvas became a gestural theater of private passions. Pollock’s art – from the early, Surrealist-inspired figurative canvases and those invoking “primitive” archetypes to the later labyrinthine webs of poured paint – elicited both readings. Pollock’s reluctance to discuss his subject matter and his emphasis on the immediacy of the visual image contributed to shifting and, ultimately, dialectic views of his work.

In 1951, at the height of the artist’s career, Vogue magazine published fashion photographs by Cecil Beaton of models posing in front of Pollock’s drip paintings. Although this commercial recognition signalled public acceptance – and was symptomatic of mass culture’s inevitable expropriation of the avant-garde – Pollock continuously questioned the direction and reception of his art. His ambivalence about abstract painting, marked by a fear of being considered merely a “decorative” artist, was exacerbated, and it was around this time that he reintroduced to his paintings the quasi-figurative elements that he had abandoned when concentrating on the poured canvases. Ocean Greyness, one of Pollock’s last great works, depicts several disembodied eyes hidden within the swirling coloured fragments that materialise from the dense, scumbled gray ground. “When you are painting out of your unconscious,” he claimed, “figures are bound to emerge.” Manifest in this painting is a dynamic tension between representation and abstraction that, finally, constitutes the core of Pollock’s multileveled oeuvre.

Nancy Spector

Text from the Guggenheim website

 

Willem de Kooning. 'Composition' 1955


 

Willem de Kooning (American, 1904-1997)
Composition
1955
Oil, enamel, and charcoal on canvas
201 x 175.6cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
© 2012 The Willem de Kooning Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Although often cited as the originator of Action Painting, an abstract, purely formal and intuitive means of expression, Willem de Kooning most often worked from observable reality, primarily from figures and the landscape. From 1950 to 1955, de Kooning completed his famous Women series, integrating the human form with the aggressive paint application, bold colours, and sweeping strokes of Abstract Expressionism. These female “portraits” provoked not only with their vulgar carnality and garish colours, but also because of their embrace of figural representation, a choice deemed regressive by many of de Kooning’s Abstract Expressionist contemporaries, but one to which he consistently returned for many decades.

Composition serves as a bridge between the Women and de Kooning’s next series of work, classified by critic Thomas Hess as the Abstract Urban Landscapes (1955-58). According to the artist, “the landscape is in the Woman and there is Woman in the landscapes.” Indeed, Composition reads as a Woman obfuscated by de Kooning’s agitated brushwork, clashing colours, and allover composition with no fixed viewpoint. Completed while the artist had a studio in downtown New York, Composition’s energised dashes of red, turquoise, and chrome yellow suggest the frenetic pace of city life, without representing any identifiable urban inhabitants or forms.

Painted 20 years later, after de Kooning moved to East Hampton, New York, seeking to work in greater peace and isolation,  … Whose Name Was Writ in Water takes nature as its theme. Water was a favourite subject of the artist, and he devised a rapid, slippery technique of broad impasto strokes with frayed edges, speckled with drips, to convey its fluidity and breaking movement. The title, taken from an epigraph on Keats’s tomb, which de Kooning had seen on a trip to Rome in 1960, is, according to critic Harold Rosenberg, “the closest de Kooning can come to saluting overtly the impermanence of existence, and things in a state of disappearance.” Always aiming to reinforce the content of his work with his technique, de Kooning reworked his canvases over and over again, making each painting a composite of evanescent visual traces. The scrambled pictorial vocabulary and condensed space of the urban landscapes was gradually diffused in de Kooning’s later work. More open compositions, a less cluttered palette, and looser, liquid brushstrokes reveal a painter relieved of the nervous, claustrophobic atmosphere of city life and newly at peace with his rural surroundings.

Bridget Alsdorf

Text from the Guggenheim website

 

Pierre Alechinsky (Belgium, b. 1927) 'Vanish' 1959

 

Pierre Alechinsky (Belgium, b. 1927)
Vanish
1959
Oil on canvas
78 3/4 x 110 1/4 inches (200 x 280cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Gift, Julian and Jean Aberbach, 1967
© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

Pierre Alechinsky was a central figure in Cobra, a European artists’ group that emphasised material and its spontaneous application. The abstract and concrete often merge in his work; in Vanish (Disparaître, 1959), Alechinsky focused on the appearance and disappearance of a female figure in the centre of the canvas. This emergent shape and the background coalesce into a vigorously brushed surface that is distinguished by thickly impastoed white pigment and a network of predominantly blue lines. There are still traces of the allover patterning that characterises the artist’s watercolours and earlier canvases such as The Ant Hill (La fourmilière, 1954). His work likewise exhibits a fluidity and vitality that points to the artist’s fascination with Japanese calligraphy, which he observed during his travels to Japan in 1955.

Text from the Guggenheim website

 

Jean Dubuffet. 'The Substance of Stars' December 1959

 

Jean Dubuffet (French, 1901-1985)
The Substance of Stars
December 1959
Metal foil on Masonite
59 x 76 3/4 inches (150 x 195cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

 

 

In Jean Dubuffet’s Matériologies series (1959-60), of which The Substance of Stars (Substance d’astre, December 1959) is an example, form is subverted by an emphasis on materials, meant to stimulate mental responses and associations in the viewer. Far from being an abstraction in the usual sense, this and other such works suggest concern with topographical reality – the earth, water and sky, and the stars. These elements are not conveyed through descriptive images or through the use of materials identical with a natural substance, but through evocative effects of their artificial counterparts, here black, gray, and silver metal foil. Nature, although closely observed, is thus rendered through artifice, and reality conjured up through elaborate illusion.

Text from the Guggenheim website

 

Karel Appel.
 'The Crying Crocodile Tries to Catch the Sun' 1956


 

Karel Appel
 (Dutch, 1921-2006)
The Crying Crocodile Tries to Catch the Sun
1956
Oil on canvas
145.5 x 113.1cm
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 1976
© 2012 Karel Appel Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Karel Appel, like Asger Jorn, was a member of the Cobra group, which emphasised material and its spontaneous application. Although the group was short-lived, its concerns have endured in his work. The single standing figures of humans or animals he developed during the 1950s are rendered in a deliberately awkward, naive way, with no attempt at modelling or perspectival illusionism. Thus, the crocodile in this painting is presented as a flat and immobile form, contoured with heavy black lines in the manner of a child’s drawing.

Appel’s paint handling activates a frenzy of rhythmic movement in The Crying Crocodile Tries to Catch the Sun (1956), despite the static monumentality of the subject. Drips and smears are interspersed with veritable stalactites of brilliant, unmodulated colour that buckle, ooze, slash, wither, and thread their way over the surface. The physicality of the impasto and its topographic variety allow it to reflect light and cast shadows dramatically, increasing the emotional intensity of violent colour contrasts. In 1956 Appel summarised the genesis of his work: “I never try to make a painting; it is a howl, it is naked, it is like a child, it is a caged tiger… My tube is like a rocket writing its own space.”1

Lucy Flint

1. Karel Appel, quoted in Alfred Frankenstein, ed., Karel Appel (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1980), p. 52.

Text from the Guggenheim website

 

Asger Jorn. 'A Soul for Sale (Ausverkauf einer Seele)' 1958-59


 

Asger Jorn (Danish, 1914-1973)
A Soul for Sale (Ausverkauf einer Seele)
1958-59
Oil with sand on canvas
200 x 250cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Purchased with funds contributed by the Evelyn Sharp Foundation, 1983
© 2012 Donation Jorn, Silkeborg / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/COPY-DAN, Copenhagen

 

 

Asger Jorn’s career began in 1936 when he ventured from Copenhagen to Paris with the goal of apprenticing under the legendary painter Vasily Kandinsky. On his arrival, however, Jorn promptly learned that Kandinsky did not operate his own academy. Instead, the young artist enrolled in Fernand Léger’s Académie contemporaine and worked with Le Corbusier on his Pavillon des temps nouveaux at the World Exhibition of 1937, experiencing firsthand the formal restraint and balance that characterised the art and architecture of Le Corbusier’s Purism – a movement dedicated to highly rationalised geometric forms.

But Jorn preferred methods rooted in spontaneity and would ultimately reject the techniques of his teachers in favour of a life of art, writing, and activism that amounted to an assault on rationality in all its guises – painterly, architectural, and social. In 1948 Jorn and others, including Karel Appel, founded Cobra, an international collection of like-minded experimental artists. Indebted to the style of Jorn’s friend Jean Dubuffet – whose Art Brut looked to traditions of art making commonly considered debased or vulgar by the art establishment – Cobra art combined Surrealist automatism with the materiality of gestural mark making. Many of Jorn’s early paintings exist on the boundary between abstraction and figuration, aligning his practice with that of American contemporaries including Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.

In 1957 Jorn merged his anti-Bauhaus group, the Mouvement internationale pour un Bauhaus imaginiste (International movement for an imaginist Bauhaus, founded in 1954), with Guy Debord’s Lettrist International, to form the Internationale Situationiste (Situationist International, SI), a Marxist, activist group of writers, artists, and theorists who sought to destabilise societal practices and structures ranging from urban planning to the art establishment. Jorn continued to exhibit an anarchic spirit even after he left the SI in 1961. As an act of rebellion against the concept of art prizes, for instance, he refused to accept the Guggenheim Museum’s 1964 International Award for his painting Dead Drunk Danes (Døddrukne Danskere, 1960), stating in a telegram that he wanted no part of the museum’s “ridiculous game.”

During his SI period Jorn focused great effort on a series of “modification” paintings, which utilised other paintings as pre-existing supports on which to produce new images or marks, but he also continued to work within his Cobra aesthetic, making paintings such as A Soul for Sale (Ausverkauf einer Seele, 1958-59). In both its use of expressive brushwork and its collapsing of foreground and background, figuration and abstraction, A Soul for Sale articulates some of Jorn’s most significant interrogations of the precepts of geometric abstraction and rationalised art making. Barely discernible amid a field of gestural marks, the work’s central figure – demarcated by fragmented contour lines that seem to merge with the abstract ground even as they define the figure’s form – appears on the verge of disappearing. Jorn seems to deny his subject even as he represents it. In a similar fashion, rational strategies of delineating form or representing depth, seen in the contour drawing or in the crosshatching at the top right of the painting, are overcome by strikingly crude or naive methods of mark making, such as scattered soil or paint smudges – techniques Jorn first developed early on as a Cobra artist.

Text from the Guggenheim website

 

Yves Klein (French, 1928-1962) 'Large Blue Anthropometry (ANT 105) [La Grande Anthropométrie Bleue (ANT 105)]' c. 1960

 

Yves Klein (French, 1928-1962)
Large Blue Anthropometry (ANT 105) [La Grande Anthropométrie Bleue (ANT 105)]
c. 1960
Blue pigment and synthetic resin on paper on canvas
280 x 428cm
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

 

 

Yves Klein’s first passion in life was judo. In 1952 he moved to Tokyo and studied at the Ko-do-kan Judo Institute, where he earned a black belt. When he returned to Paris in 1955 and discovered to his dismay that the Fédération Française de Judo did not extol him as a star, he shifted his attentions and pursued a secondary interest – a career in the arts. During the ensuing seven years Klein assembled a multifarious and critically complex body of work ranging from monochrome canvases and wall reliefs to paintings made with fire. He is renowned for his almost exclusive use of a strikingly resonant, powdery ultramarine pigment, which he patented under the name “International Klein Blue,” claiming that it represented the physical manifestation of cosmic energy that, otherwise invisible, floats freely in the air. In addition to monochrome paintings, Klein applied this pigment to sponges, which he attached to canvases as relief elements or positioned on wire stands to create biomorphic or anthropomorphic sculptures. First exhibited in Paris in 1959, the sponge sculptures – all essentially alike, yet ultimately all different – formed a forest of discrete objects surrounding the gallery visitors. About these works Klein explained, “Thanks to the sponges – raw living matter – I was going to be able to make portraits of the observers of my monochromes, who … after having voyaged in the blue of my pictures, return totally impregnated in sensibility, as are the sponges.”1

For his Anthropométries series, Klein famously used nude female models drenched in paint as “brushes.” His system of pressing bodies against the paper support (which was later mounted on canvas) rejected any illusion of a third dimension in the pictorial space. In these works, the subject, object, and medium become confused with one another to produce a trace of the body’s presence. Klein’s unconventional activities also included releasing thousands of blue balloons into the sky, and exhibiting an empty, white-walled room and then selling portions of the interior air, which he called “zones” of “immaterial pictorial sensibility.” His intentions remain perplexing thirty years after his sudden death. Whether Klein truly believed in the mystical capacity of the artist to capture cosmic particles in paint and to create aesthetic experiences out of thin air and then apportion them at whim is difficult to determine. The argument has also been made that he was essentially a parodist who mocked the metaphysical inclinations of many modern painters, while making a travesty of the art market.

Nancy Spector

1. Yves Klein, “Remarques sur quelques oeuvres exposées chez Colette ‘Allendy’,” 1958, Klein archive, quoted in Nan Rosenthal, “Assisted Levitation: The Art of Yves Klein,” in Yves Klein 1928-1962: A Retrospective, exh. cat. (Houston: Institute for the Arts, Rice University, 1982), p. 111.

Text from the Guggenheim website

 

 

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 5th Avenue (at 89th Street)
New York

Opening hours:
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Saturday 10am – 7.45pm
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Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 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: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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