Collection Spotlight: Abstraction, 1950–1980
During the early twentieth century, abstract art evolved from schematic arrangements based on observed objects and figures, to compositions that used lines, colors, and shapes that had no source in reality.
The word abstract means to separate or extract something from something else; in this sense, all art can be viewed as a form of abstraction. During the early twentieth century, abstract art evolved from schematic arrangements based on observed objects and figures to compositions that used lines, colors, and shapes that had no source in reality. This exhibition highlights a selection of abstract paintings from the HRM’s collection spanning the 1950s to 1980s, when abstraction dominated the art world. In the postwar period, artists rejected realism as a barrier to creativity and experimented with pure abstraction in every medium. At the time, the epicenter of this activity was New York City, where Abstract Expressionism emerged and was championed by critics and Lower Manhattan gallerists.
During the 1960s, other forms of abstraction emerged in reaction to the painterly energy and emotional content of Abstract Expressionism. These new developments are referred to collectively as post-painterly abstraction. Yvonne Thomas and Charles W. L. Foreman each worked in versions of hard-edge abstraction, with clean lines and bright colors. Tamara Melcher was a pioneer in creating shaped canvases for geometric paintings. Beginning in the 1970s, other artists, including Jack Lembeck, rejected the emphasis on the flat canvas and explored abstract illusionism. Satish Joshi, whose painting is on loan from his Crystals series, was inspired by geological formations and magnified faceted minerals.
During these three decades, American artists pushed the boundaries of abstraction, expanding the possibilities of painting in ways that impacted approaches to artmaking well beyond the 1980s. By that time, a growing number of artists were turning to representational work, ranging from landscapes to portraits, but their painting styles were often strongly influenced by the forms, colors, and spatial concerns of this period of modern art.
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Charles W. L. Foreman • Alvin C. Hollingsworth • Satish Joshi • Jack Lembeck • Tamara Melcher • William Ronald • Esther Forman Singer • Yvonne Thomas