Surface Truths: Abstract Painting in the Sixties at the Norton Simon Museum
PASADENA, CA.- The Norton Simon Museum presents Surface Truths: Abstract Painting in the Sixties, an exhibition of seventeen large-scale paintings created in the 1960s by artists such as Larry Bell, Thomas Downing, Helen Frankenthaler, Takeshi Kawashima, Kenneth Noland and Jack Youngerman. Drawn from the Museum’s holdings, the exhibition presents seminal and seldom-seen work by these artists who blazed an important trail through the contemporary art world.
A distinctively American style of painting was created by the Abstract Expressionists who came out of post-War New York. Having distanced themselves from European Modernism, these artists fashioned an art that was loose, gestural and that emanated confidence in the power of personal expression. As Frank Stella acknowledged, “Both Pollock and Hoffman solved the problem for me…they established American painting as a real thing for me. I had confidence in it. I could find myself in relationship to Pollock and Hoffman rather than Picasso and Matisse.” But by the 1960s, with Abstract Expressionism on the wane and Pop Art and Conceptualism rising in popularity and critical acclaim, a new challenge was posed for the next generation of Abstract artists: which way forward? How could the young artists of the 1960s illustrate new ideas that would move the tradition ahead?
Surface Truths: Abstract Painting in the Sixties considers the work of 16 artists and the directions they pursued as they moved away from an aesthetic that supported a self-evident creative process to an aesthetic seeking to erase gesture, pictorial depth and illusion. Artists of the 1960s responded to the painterly character of Abstract Expressionism with a cool, linear approach absent of personalized brushwork, refocusing attention on the flat surface of the canvas and applying pigment consistently to achieve “an all-overness.” A significant number of artists redirected their attention to materials. The combination of unprimed canvas, synthetic paint mediums and techniques such as staining made it possible for them to paint in new ways, sometimes without a brush, to achieve the desired effects.
Curators and critics struggled to define the essence of this artistic production, coining terms such as Post-painterly, Lyrical Abstraction, Color Field, Hard-Edge, Minimalist and Systems. Artists such as Larry Bell, Thomas Downing, Helen Frankenthaler, Stephen Greene, Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella and Jack Youngerman produced work that has been included in one or more of these categories. Some artists, Ellsworth Kelly and Agnes Martin among them, were outspoken in dissociating their work from such classifications. Many of these painters belonged to overlapping social and professional circles, providing each other with support for their innovations and efforts. And dealers such as Betty Parsons and Leo Castelli in New York and Irving Blum at Ferus in Los Angeles exhibited them and promoted their work.