1960s Abstraction


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Brief overview of 1960s abstraction including Post-Painterly Abstraction, Hard-Edge, and Washington Color School.

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1960s Abstraction

  1. 1. Playing by the Rules Sixties Abstraction
  2. 2. 1960s Abstraction• American modernism in the 1960s was still very much dictated by art critic Clement Greenberg.• Since the mid-1940s, Greenberg had been defining American art according to a very strict aesthetic standard informed by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).• In the 1950s, Greenberg’s formalism was best represented in the work of artist Jackson Pollock whom he wrote essays Photograph of art critic promoting. Clement Greenberg.• In the wake of Pollock’s death and America’s new role as art capital of the world, Greenberg felt America had become the bastion of advanced art and thus protect it.
  3. 3. Post-Painterly Abstraction• Greenberg believed that Abstract Expressionism had become mannerist or idiosyncratic.• His search for a successor to Abstract Expressionism lead him to Post-Painterly Abstraction, a style that reacted to the gestural strokes of some second generation Abstract Expressionists while retaining Greenberg’s points of modernist painting.• To install Post-Painterly Abstraction as Abstract Expressionism’s successor, Greenberg and his followers (dubbed the Greenberg School) mounted an attack on de Kooning and the gestural style. – De Kooning’s work was condemned for its denial of pictorial flatness and suggestion of illusionistic space (Greenberg argued translated to representation). – The Greenberg School argued the more painterly style made reference to the illusion of space and was too reliant on Cubist structure.
  4. 4. Clement GreenbergGreenberg’s formalist rules include: 1. Medium specificity. 2. Truth to materials. 3. Tendency toward abstraction. 4. Emphasis on the flatness of the picture plane. 5. Exclusion of narrative (abandonment of subject matter). 6. Originality and authenticity. 7. Rejection of objects in painting. 8. Relinquishment of connection between artist and audience. 9. Denunciation of clearly discernable brushstrokes (reaction against the painterly style of de Kooning).
  5. 5. Clement Greenberg• Greenberg’s presence was felt not only through his articles and essays, the critic also began consulting and organizing exhibitions featuring the work he approved.• For his 1964 “Post-Painterly Abstraction” show hosted by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Greenberg selected 31 artists the captured the direction art was moving. – Artists of interest include: Helen Frankethaler, Morris Louis, Al Held, Sam Francis, Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland, and Frank Stella.• Greenberg’s influence should not be underestimated; museums consulted him, artists even sought his advice and some changed their painting based on his reaction.
  6. 6. Post-Painterly Abstraction• Post-Painterly Abstraction as defined by Greenberg displays less evidence of the artist’s ego-the artist is unconcerned with developing a connection with the audience and his/her presence is not emphasized. – That emphasis has traditionally been felt through the artist’s signature or his/her brush stroke. – Realist painter Courbet was heavily ridiculed for signing his work on the front of the canvas.• The artist’s presence had been felt in Abstract Expressionism’s gestural brushwork.• The Post-Painterly style and artists Greenberg promoted during the 1960s leave no trace of the artist’s hand.• Stylistically, it is characterized by a openness of design and/or linear clarity.
  7. 7. Post-Painterly AbstractionSam Francis (1923-1994)•Francis’ work does not fitneatly with Greenberg’sformalism.•Francis had been associatedwith Abstract Expression andL’Art Informel before comingto a Post-Painterly style.•His Shining Back exhibits theopenness of design requiredby Greenberg. Sam Francis, Shining Back, 1958. Oil on canvas, 6’7 ⅜” x 4’5 ⅛”. Guggenheim Museum, NY.
  8. 8. Post-Painterly AbstractionSam Francis (1923-1994)•Francis’ work continued into the 1970sto exemplify Greenbergian formalism.•Untitled displays interest in the edge ofthe canvas, something other Post-Painterly Abstractionists also explored. – The physicality of the canvas would become a key feature of painters who succeed Post-Painterly Abstraction to practice Minimalism.•Untitled also relinquishesnarrative/subject matter. Sam Francis, Untitled no. 11, – Lack of title refuses to place a subject on 1973. Acrylic on canvas, 8’ x the work, it does not lead the viewer in any 10’. Jonathan Novak one direction to interpret the image. Contemporary Art, LA.
  9. 9. Post-Painterly AbstractionHelen Frankenthaler (b.1928)•It was Frankenthaler’sexperimentation with what becameknown as staining that would helpAbstract Expressionist artist’stransition to Color Field painting.•Frankenthaler began to water downher oil paints and allow them tospread unimpeded on umprimedcanvas.•Her technique was embraced byGreenberg-so much so that heintroduced artists Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler, MountainsKenneth Noland to the artist and her and Sea, 1952. Oil and charcoalprocess at her studio. on canvas, 86” x 117”. Collection of the artist, on loan to National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
  10. 10. Post-Painterly AbstractionHelen Frankenthaler (b.1928)•Mountains and Sea is her first stainpainting.•Frankenthaler’s process epitomizesGreenbergian formalism-the artist allowsthe pigment and the canvas to bond. – The fact that she interferes very little and allows the paint to flow and soak into the canvas embraces the spontaneity of Abstract Expressionism and stays truthful to her materials. – She abandons artistic ego: it is the Helen Frankenthaler, Mountains materials that create the image that and Sea, 1952. Oil and charcoal forms on the canvas with little to no on canvas, 86” x 117”. Collection interference from the artist. of the artist, on loan to National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
  11. 11. Post-Painterly AbstractionHelen Frankenthaler (b.1928)•Her works explore the edge of thecanvas.•Like Post-Painterly Abstractionartists, Frankenthaler’s paintingsshow little to no texture of paint.•Her open compositions allow forthe center of the painting to revealitself to the viewer. Helen Frankenthaler Interior Landscape, 1964. Acrylic on canvas, 8’ 8 ¾” x 7’ 8 ¾”. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA.
  12. 12. Post-Painterly AbstractionMorris Louis (1912-1962)•After seeing Frankenthaler’sstaining technique with Greenbergand Noland, Louis experimentswith the process. – Louis had gotten the attention of Greenberg while exhibiting with the Washington Color School.•Louis continues to address theproblem of space and the figure- Morris Louis, Kaf, 1959-1960.ground relationship. Acrylic on canvas, 8’4” x 12’. Collection of Kimiko and John G. Powers.
  13. 13. Post-Painterly AbstractionMorris Louis (1912-1962)•Louis’ staining technique differedslightly from Frankenthaler.•Louis’ paint was runnier and hiscanvases un-stretched during thestaining process. – The resultant images often earned his works the subtitle “veil” paintings.•Kaf represents this process.•Louis, like the Post-PainterlyAbstractionists rejects the gestural asrepresented in the painting style ofmany first generation Abstract Morris Louis, Kaf, 1959-1960. Acrylic on canvas, 8’4” x 12’.Expressionists. Collection of Kimiko and John G. Powers.
  14. 14. Abstract Expressionism:West Coast Abstraction
  15. 15. Abstract Expressionism: West Coast Abstraction• West Coast artists shared a similar aesthetic to their New York contemporaries – They both explored the spiritual, sought codification of artistic expression, and searched for the universal in art.• West Coast artists did not share the same need for commercial success, they did not have the same network of art literati as Manhattan, and they never truly abandon the landscape.• Many artists attended the CA School of Fine Art (now SFAI) and were mentored under Abstract Expressionist artists including Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. – The influence from the New York School makes its way into West Coast abstraction.
  16. 16. West Coast AbstractionRichard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)•Amongst West Coast abstract paintersDiebenkorn stands apart.•He attended the CA School of Fine Arts.•His style, although it did evolve throughouthis career, maintains the basic precept-toabstract from what he saw and translatethat into a painterly style.•His works maintain planes of color thatpronounce the flatness of the canvas. Richard Diebenkorn,•His work never abandons interest in the Berkeley #22, 1954. Oil on canvas, 59” x 57”.landscape. Hirshorn Museum and sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
  17. 17. West Coast AbstractionRichard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)•Diebenkorn’s work explored a sense ofthe inner and outer dimensions andexhibits a tension between forms.•His painting, Man and Woman in LargeRoom, illustrates this tendency mostsimply by containing large expanses ofabstract color juxtaposed next to thefigural.•The influence of Rothko is evident asDiebenkorn takes Rothko’s blocks of Richard Diebenkorn, Man and Woman in Large Room, 1957.color and includes them in his Oil on canvas, 71” x 62 ½”.composition. Hirshorn Museum and sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
  18. 18. West Coast AbstractionRichard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)•Ocean Park No. 54 represents histhird series of paintings-the OceanPark works.•The color planes present on the floorin his previous work take centralstage in this series.•Inspired particularly by Matisse,Mondrian, Monet, and AbstractExpressionism Diebenkorn exploreshis personal vocabulary of Rothko-esque rectangles of color in attempt Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Parkto purify their form. No. 54, 1972. Oil on canvas, 8’4” x 6’9”. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA.
  19. 19. West Coast AbstractionCy Twombly (b. 1928)•Studies at Black Mountain College, theexperimental liberal arts college in NorthCarolina.•Tyombly is best known for his signaturepieces best described as large-scalecalligraphic graffitti paintings reminiscent ofL’Art Brut.•He works primarily in monochromatic gray.•These works challenge the divisionbetween painting and drawing.•Like Johns, Twombly introduces letters andwords to his paintings the result of which Cy Twombly, Untitled, 1969.makes his work look like writing on a Crayon and oil on canvas, 6’6”chalkboard. x 8’7”. Whitney Museum of American Art, NY.
  20. 20. Hard-Edge Painting• Term first applied by LA art critic, Jules Langser in 1958 when talking about the abstract canvases of West Coast painters. – These artists were not interest in the gestural quality of the brushstroke of Ab Ex.• it was popularized by Alloway in 1959 in reference to American artists whose surfaces were treated as one single flat unit. – There is no distinction between figure and background. – Allover technique of Pollock dominates style.• Hard-edge painters embrace the geometric and symmetrical and use a limited palette.• In contrast to Color Field, Hard-Edge is precise and impersonal.• Hard-edge painting embraces simplicity and clarity, lack of surface incident, and large scale.• The primary characteristic is the desire to achieve total unity of the canvas with no division of foreground and background, and no figure.
  21. 21. Hard-Edge Painting (mid 1960s-1960s)Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923)•Kelly draws inspiration from nature, theurban and natural landscape.•He is associated with the Color-FieldSchool, Hard-Edge painting, andMinimalism.•His work makes use of unpretentioustechnique, simple form and bright colors.•Although he lived in postwar NY, he did notpaint in the gestural style of Abstract Ellsworth Kelly, Window,Expressionism. Museum of Modern Art, Paris, 1949. Oil and wood on canvas, 50 ½” x 19 ½” x ¾”. Private collection.
  22. 22. Hard-Edge Painting• Kelly had a particular interest in shape and color and focused attention on the figure-ground relationship.• Kelly’s influences include Dada artist, Hans Arp.• Unilke Arp, Kelly did not allow chance to totally dominate his compositions preferring to have some preconceived design. Ellsworth Kelly, Orange and Green, 1966. Liquitex (mat varnish) on canvas, 7’4” x 5’5”. Collection Robert and Jane Meyerhoff, Phoenix, MD.
  23. 23. • From artist Hans Arp (1896-1966) Kelly takes a particular interest in natural form of shape. Ellsworth Kelly, Orange and Green, Jean Arp, Objects Arranged According to 1966. Liquitex (mat varnish) on the Laws of Chance, (Navels) 1930. canvas, 7’4” x 5’5”. Collection Robertvarnished wood relief. Museum of Modern and Jane Meyerhoff, Phoenix, MD. Art, NY.
  24. 24. Hard-Edge Painting• Contrary to Greenbergian formalizs, Kelly’s canvases often blur the boundary between painting and sculpture.• Works like Mandorla, which feature a three-dimensional aspect to design make its status as painting or sculpture open to debate. Ellsworth Kelly, Mandorla, 1988. Bronze, 8’5” x 4’ 5 ½”. Private collection.
  25. 25. Washington Color School (late 1950s- mid-1960s)Kenneth Noland (b.1924)•Unlike Kelly, Noland did not takeinspiration from nature.•Credits his own personal style tofinding the center of the canvas.•Between the mid-1950s and 1962,Noland’s primary subject was thecircle centered within the canvas.•Noland exhibited with a group ofabstract artists from theWashington, D.C area who togetherbecame known as the Washington Kenneth Noland, A Warm Sound in a Gray Field, 1961. Acrylic onColor School. canvas, 6’10½” x 6’9”. Private collection.
  26. 26. Washington Color School (late 1950s- mid-1960s)• Consists of a group of painters who showed together in the 1965 exhibition, “Washington Color Painters”. – Their work can be described as predominantly abstract and makes use of stripes, large washes of color, and fields of single color.• Artists include Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis, Gene Davis, Howard Mehring, Thomas Downing, and Paul Reed.• Met the approval of Greenberg who saw in their work the purity of painting he prescribed in his formalist modernism.
  27. 27. Washington Color School (late 1950s- mid-1960s)Kenneth Noland (b.1924)•After his circular series, Nolandbegan to experiment with the shapeof the canvas exploring its edges.•The result of this explorationwhere his most famous works, thechevron stripes.•Noland’s chevrons, with theirextension from top to bottom,managed to accentuate an innerharmony on the canvas. Kenneth Noland, Sarah’s Reach, 1964. Acrylic on canvas, 93 ¾” x 91 ⅝. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
  28. 28. Washington Color School (late 1950s- mid-1960s)Kenneth Noland (b.1924)•Following his chevrons,Noland began paintingasymmetrical stripes.•His Graded Exposure exploresthe nature of the canvas byextending the entire length ofthe canvas.•This series allowed Noland toachieve his mature style aformula of vertical and/orhorizontal canvases in which agrid allows the painter to Kenneth Noland, Graded Exposure, 1967.explore even the edges. Acrylic on canvas, 7’43/4” x 19’1”. Collection Mrs. Samuel G. Rautbord, Chicago.
  29. 29. Hard-Edge PaintingAl Held (1928-2005)•Like Kelly, Held maintained somecontrol over his canvas by selectingsubject matter.•The 1960s saw the artist focus on aseries of paintings that take letters asinspiration.•Held selected letters with strategicopenings as seen here in The Big N ineffort to make it appear that thesespaces hold the edge of the canvas.•The effect is also similar to Kline’smagnification of brushstrokes making Al Held, The Big N, 1964. Synthetic polymer paint onthe letter appear larger than the canvas, 9’ ⅜” x 9’. Museum ofcanvas itself. Modern Art, NY.
  30. 30. Toward Minimalism• The painting of these artists establishes an aesthetic very much on par with what Greenberg defined as American modernism.• Experimentation with shape seen in the work of Noland and Kelly would lead toward the next phase of abstraction and become known as Minimalism, a style realized in both painting and sculpture.