Paul Kasmin Gallery is pleased to present Caro, Frankenthaler, Louis, Motherwell, Noland, Olitski, Stella: Curated by Hayden Dunbar on view at 293 Tenth Avenue January 24 – February 23, 2013, featuring artworks by Anthony Caro, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, and Frank Stella.
Caro, Frankenthaler, Louis, Motherwell, Noland, Olitski, Stella presents the artifacts of a struggle that shook the art world, a struggle that rose from the very epicenter of change between Abstract Expressionism and what was to come. What at first may seem rational or cerebral on the surface reveals soon after the enormous feeling that makes these works moving to this day, a mood that would evolve into the lingua franca of a whole new art form.
Abstract Expressionism created giants, who spawned giants of their own. Galleries could take risks on young artists who reveled in new materials and vibrant colors, artists whose optimism and joy was as palpable as their youth. The artists shown in this exhibition are part of a generation of painters and sculptors who veered away from the dominant subjectivity and gestural bent of Abstract Expressionism. Painters Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland championed the style of painting referred to as ‘Color Field’ which focused on explorations of color and composition with an emphasis on flatness and line. Influential critic Clement Greenberg proclaimed Noland and Louis as the righteous successors to Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Louis and Noland’s pivotal studio visit with the painter Helen Frankenthaler in 1953 exposed them to her groundbreaking style, where she diluted and thinned paint that seemed to intertwine with raw unprimed canvas. This visit inspired both artists; Noland began to paint in a symmetrical straight-edged fashion with an emphasis on geometric line and color. Louis soaked and stained his unprimed canvases in veils of radiant translucent thinned acrylic paint from 1954 to 1962. Color Field painters rejected illusionistic depth and brushwork. Instead, they applied color in geometric motifs that spanned the entire surface of their canvases. Intent on erasing the distinction between object and ground, Color Field painters approached each canvas as a continuous plane. Their expansive canvases invite and envelop the viewer in a vibrant atmosphere of color.
Based in Washington D.C., Morris Louis worked in the dining room of a small suburban house. His work pushed the staining neutral shades of Pollock and the enriched chroma of Frankenthaler’s paint into a whole new dimension. In 1958, working with the first oil miscible acrylic paints from Bocour, he poured thin washes of color down unstretched canvas until he had created a somber brown surface that pulsated with the brightness of submerged color. His practice would soon incorporate pleating the canvas into troughs where the luminous poured paint could come to rest simply by the force of gravity. Ultimately claimed by cancer, Louis failed to live to see the first works exhibited at the Andre Emmerich Gallery in 1962. Louis’s radical approach to painting began attracting national and critical attention around the time of his death in 1962. In 2007, Paul Kasmin Gallery showed a selection of Louis’s work entitled “Paintings.”
Jules Olitski is known for his desire to create colors that look like they are diffused into the air. In 1965, Jules Olitski, stretched and stapled canvas to the floor to keep it from shrinking. From atop a ladder, he would clamp a dozen spray guns filled with diluted acrylic paint aimed at a canvas below. He would lead the gun’s electric cord to a multiple outlet extension cord, and that to another until all that was required to set off the apparatus was to plug the last one in. Puffing away on his cigar, Olitski waited to see his spray cloud in its purity of color before leaving the room and abandoning the work completely. He repeated this process until the paint accreted into a dense surface, all the while subtly manipulating the randomly colored rainfall. Olitski challenged and widened the definition of Color Field in the 1970s through his signature techniques. Clement Greenberg described him as “the greatest painter alive” in 1990. Olitski’s first solo museum exhibition was at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC, in 1967. In 1969, he exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A retrospective was held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1973.
In his recognizable targets, Kenneth Noland addressed the direct, in-your-face, attack mode of a simple, colorful, abstract shape locked onto the surface of a canvas. Beyond the exhilaration of perceiving a master colorist at work, Noland realized, just as his friend Clement Greenberg noted, that the shape did not have to be locked down. Shapes could float in the ambiguity of space, abandon Pollock’s illusionism, and pursue more completely painting’s essential flatness. Noland’s paintings, like artificial horizons, pulsate with colors unimagined by nature. They drift past the edges of our peripheral vision into limitless visual pleasure, and challenge. Indeed, it was this challenge that lifted it from the merely sensual, to the poignant. Noland continued to influence the art world after the 1960s, breaking boundaries of form, medium and scale in his work. Noland died in 2010 at the age of 85.
In the 1960’s, Frank Stella began to gain recognition for his unusually shaped canvases, which created a sculptural effect opposing the theory of flatness. Within the same year, Stella, with precocious maturity understood, that the humanity of the artist’s touch, confronting remorseless geometry would make paintings that confounded understanding. His shaped canvased, pinstriped with black paint, effectively argued for the shape as the most significant part of any painting. From black, his worked moved into an array of different colors, then multiples of primary and secondary colors. Even fifty years later, these works appear vital, fresh and retain the capacity to move us deeply. Stella is a recipient of many honors and awards, including the first prize at the 1967 International Biennial of Paintings. Stella’s work has been the subject of several retrospectives in the United States, Europe, and Japan. His painting, “Moultonville II”, 1966, was exhibited in “Color as Field: American Painting, 1950-1975,” the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2008, along with works by Frankenthaler, Louis, Noland, and Olitski.
Anthony Caro rose to prominence in the 1960s for his large-scale, abstract sculptures, and is considered to an icon for Color Field painters. During the 1960s, Caro utilized oxyacetylene welding equipment and scrap metal from London dockyards and began to experiment with cutting, welding, and bolting together pre-fabricated steel girders, meshes and sheet metal. The resulting abstract sculptures explored similar topics as Color Field painters such as scale, form, surface and space. Born in 1924 in England, Caro’s career spans more than five decades, during which he has received numerous honors, critical acclaim, and is renowned as Britain’s most important living sculptor. Caro’s major exhibitions include retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1975), the Trajan Markets, Rome (1992), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (1995), Tate Britain, London (2005). Caro lives and works in England.
These works do not reside on the periphery. They are the evidence of the Big Bang, works that changed art, works that made both minimalism and Pop possible. In their time they were astonishing and accessible, and they retain an aesthetic foundation, that is the essence of their grandeur, that remains, even today.
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