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"Gestures: Postwar American and European Abstraction from the Permanent Collection"
1999-10-10 until 2000-01-02
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Los Angeles, CA, USA United States of America

In conjunction with the first full-scale retrospective of major American painter Lee Krasner (1908–1984), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art—LACMA—presents an exhibition that explores post World War II Abstract Expressionism in the United States and the concurrent movement of European art informel, also known as lyrical abstraction. It is the first large-scale exhibition of postwar abstraction completely drawn from LACMAs permanent collection. On opposite sides of the Atlantic, the two movements are both characterized by an extreme individualism and highly innovative form and content, making deliberate breaks with tradition. For the latter half of the twentieth century, European postwar art has been overshadowed in the U.S. by the dominating focus on abstraction expressionism. The end of the twentieth century provides a timely opportunity to reexamine these two movements in a single exhibition. Fifty paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures from the museum’s permanent collection trace the ideological and formal parallels and differences between art produced in the United States and Western Europe from the 1940s through the 1960s.

Abstract Expressionism and art informel emerged independently of one another in the mid-1940s and flourished during a redefining period. After World War II, the cultural environment in the United States was, by today’s standards, extremely nationalistic, and Abstract Expressionism was viewed by many artists, critics, and historians as evidence of America’s long-awaited supremacy in the field of modern art. By comparison, much of Western Europe lay in ruins and culturally fragmented, with many artists fleeing to America. In Europe, much of the success of art informel can be attributed to the fact that it was seen as a fundamental break with tradition and a viable response to the oppressive authoritarianism that had led to the war.

Artists working independently on either side of the Atlantic were responding to the same social and political events. They reacted to the horrors of fascism and the Holocaust; the atomic bomb revealed further dimensions of irrationality. Artists explored the disciplines of anthropology, philosophy, and psychology, and looked to Surrealism and the power of automatism as a means of more authentic, spontaneous expression.

Michel Tapié, the influential Parisian critic who coined the term art informel in1950, promoted the movement’s impulse towards gestural abstraction as a radical new beginning of un autre, or something else. In 1951, Tapié and artist Georges Mathieu organized a groundbreaking exhibition entitled Vehemences Confronteés (Opposing Forces). This was the first time that canvases by artists associated with art informel, such as Hans Hartung and Jean Riopelle, were shown with examples of Abstract Expressionism from the United States, including Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

Almost fifty years later, the current exhibition reexamines the positions of Abstract Expressionism and art informel by showing significant works from LACMA’s permanent collection. This selection of well known as well as rarely seen, yet important works reveals relationships between the two movements. The dynamic black and white swaths of Franz Kline, the silent, saturated color fields of Mark Rothko, and the spontaneous gestural compositions of Jackson Pollock can be seen alongside the aggressive, sweeping lines of Hans Hartung, the bold black bands of Pierre Soulages, and a vibrant landscape by Nicolas de StaNULLl. The installation includes a selection of etchings from a portfolio never before displayed at LACMA, printed at Atelier 17, an internationally known graphic-arts workshop that attracted both United States and European artists.

Credit Line: This exhibition was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Curator: Jill Martinez, curatorial assistant, modern and contemporary art at LACMA.


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