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Painterly Abstraction, 1949–1969: Selections from the Guggenheim Collections

June 14, 2011 – January 8, 2012

In the devastating aftermath of World War II and under the wing of Existentialist philosophy, European artists turned to expressive hybridization and synthesis as opposed to the utopian and experimental values that had marked the artists of previous generations. For those artists in Franco's Spain and Eastern Europe still oppressed by political and aesthetic tyranny, works of art signified political liberation. Art Informel, or art without form, encompasses a wide array of abstract practices and painterly methods that emerged in this postwar era.

Rejecting the last strongholds of classical humanism and its most significant artistic principles, such as tonal harmony, balance, and unitary composition, Informel painting instead embraced the expression of artistic freedom. The movement was known in its various manifestations as Gesture Painting, Lyrical Abstraction, Matter art, and Tachisme (from the French tache, meaning spot or stain). Such artists as Alberto Burri in Italy, Jean Dubuffet in France, and Antoni Tàpies in Spain applied materials other than oil paint to their canvases, while others explored a number of approaches they considered to be more scientific, objective, and interactive in nature, in particular monochrome painting and Kinetic Art, as demonstrated in the work of Yves Klein, Piero Manzoni, and Jean Tinguely.

Painting in the United States was simultaneously developing toward a gesture-based, highly expressive style. Like the artists of Art Informel, the Abstract Expressionists did not have one style or universal theme. However, an interest in the process and essentials of making art, as well as an overwhelming trend toward abstraction influenced by artists' unconscious or emotions, became the driving force behind the movement. Action Painting sought to unite form and emotion through innovative methods of applying paint-pouring and splattering, as well as using a brush-in an effort to emphasize the act of painting and the painted surface, and is exemplified by the work of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. Others, such as Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko, employed large planes of color to evoke spiritual states. Drawn primarily from the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, this exhibition, curated by Tracey Bashkoff, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, and Megan Fontanella, Assistant Curator, both from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, reveals the striking affinities between artists working continents apart in the burgeoning Cold War era.

Howard Mehring

In the Key of Blue II, 1965

Acrylic on canvas

216.5 x 177.8 cm

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Gift, Mr. & Mrs. Eugene M. Schwartz, 1966. 66.1823

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