Wednesday, May 29, 2019

"Epic Abstraction" @ the Met

I enjoyed this ongoing exhibition at the Met when I visited New York recently. "Epic Abstraction" features large-scale abstract painting and sculpture from the 1940s through the early twenty-first century. I was impressed that fully half of the artists included in the show were women, a welcome trend I noticed here and elsewhere.

To quote from the introduction posted at the entrance to the show:
"Many of the artists represented here worked in large formats because they sought not only to have the scope to fully explore line, color, shape, and texture, but also to evoke expansive – "epic" – ideas and subjects, including time, history, the body, and existential concerns of the self."

Joan Mitchell, La Vie en Rose, 1979

Helen Frankenthaler, Western Dream, 1957

Louise Nevelson, Mrs. N's Palace, 1964-77

Louise Nevelson, Mrs. N's Palace, 1964-77 (interior)

Louise Nevelson, born in Ukraine, is one of my favourite sculptors.
"Nevelson loved New York, describing the city as 'my mirror'. This sculpture composed of more than one hundred seemingly disparate but interconnected objects absorbs and emanates her spirit and that of her adopted home. Her largest work, it took thirteen years to complete and was unveiled on her eightieth birthday. The charismatic Nevelson is the 'Mrs. N' of the title, the monarch of this massive structure that is both environment and monument, recalling grand memorials and tombs as well as intimate, private spaces. Nevelson was captivated by the beauty she found in discarded materials and urban detritus, tenderly composing, layering, and painting her 'found objects' until they shed their skin, reborn as art. Here, it is forgotten things found by chance that together make up the whole – perhaps a metaphor for the city, even for life."

Judit Reigl, Guano (Menhir), 1959-64

Judit Reigl, Guano (Menhir), 1959-64 (detail)

"Part of an ambitious series of process- and time-based paintings, Reigl's Guano (Menhir) confronts the viewer with an imposing and ambiguous mound centrally positioned against a dark backdrop. The forms' hard, stony appearance, evoking compressed natural strata, is a result of the painter's innovative technique, a radical departure from her earlier, Surrealist-inspired methods. To protect a new studio floor, she had covered it with several layers of rejected canvases, which became saturated with pictorial matter and were trampled underfoot. In her words, 'As time went by, these excremental rags slowly became stratified layers, like the guano [bird dung] that comes from the isles of Latin America'. She then performed an excavation of sorts, finding her composition by using a homemade tool to scrape through the years of serendipitous accumulation."

Franz Kline, Black, White, and Gray, 1959

Jackson Pollock, Pasiphaë, 1943
 "[Pollock titled this painting] after hearing the story of the Cretan princess Pasiphaë, who gave birth to the half-man, half-bull Minotaur. Throughout World War II, many artists mined classical mythology's vast repository of tragic tales of war, struggle, and loss."

Jackson Pollock, Number 28, 1950, 1950

"After Pollock's move to Springs, in the town of East Hampton on Long Island in 1945, he took up painting in a barn adjacent to the home he shared with his wife, fellow artist Lee Krasner. This larger space expanded his practice, allowing for painting on and around unstretched canvases on the floor, a process the artist likened to Native American sand painting. Pollock appears to have begun this composition by dripping and spilling great amounts of black and ochre-colored medium onto the canvas, but they became buried under subsequent layers of paint applied in acrobatic swirls and dribbles. With their expansive scale and decentered compositions, the 'drip' paintings exceed their own boundaries...."

"Epic Abstraction: Pollock to Herrera" continues indefinitely at the Met.

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