Frank Owen, American, born 1939. Untitled, 1986. Acrylic on canvas, 105 x 105 inches. Gift of Geri and Mason Haupt, 2016.52

Pure Abstraction

October 17, 2020 - January 10, 2021

Henry Gallery Hodge Gallery

For some, the biggest challenge when walking through the galleries in an art museum is encountering paintings that don’t look like anything they’ve seen in the real world. Images that have no reference to people, places, or things can be perplexing and lead to comments like “That’s not art,” or “My kid could do that.” The exhibition Pure Abstraction is aimed at demystifying this often-elusive art form to help visitors better understand the abstract movement in art. 

Beginning at the turn of the 20th century, artists began exploring the effects of creating purely abstract images where any likeness to recognizable things in nature would be coincidental. By composing expressive applications of color, line, and form, that intentionally had no subject, artists found their viewers would experience sensations and feelings not unlike those they have when listening to music. The movement evolved, taking on many forms leading up to its zenith in mid-century when artists were characterized by powerfully expressive techniques of heavy gestural applications. Artists of the late 20th century through today sought new approaches and methods to maximize the medium’s emotional and expressive potential. 

The litany of art historical terms used to differentiate the various approaches can be overwhelming­—Abstract Expressionism, Color Field, Post-Painterly Abstraction, Minimalism, Op Art, Neo Expressionism, and Neo-Geo—and the distinctions are well represented in the exhibition, featuring important works by American and European artists including Hans Hofmann, Robert Motherwell, Karel Appel, Robert Goodnough, Larry Poons, Joseph Albers, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Paul Jenkins, and many others.

From the Exhibition

  • Freidel Dzubas, American, born Germany, 1915–1994. Heartland, 1983. Oil on canvas, 40 x 40 inches. Museum purchase with funds donated by Mr. William S. White, 2013.17

  • Leon Berkowitz, American, 1915–1987. Cathedral #13, 1968. Oil on canvas, 90 x 72 inches. Museum purchase, 1969.44

  • Ray Parker, American, 1922 – 1990. Untitled, 1980. Oil on canvas, 90 × 218 inches. Museum purchase with funds donated by Mr. William S.White 2013.16

  • Tino Zago, American, born Italy, 1937. Primavera #12, 1993. Oil on canvas, 42 x 72 inches. Gift of Jesse Karp, 2010.237

  • Roy Lerner, American, born 1954. Getting Traction I, 1994. Acrylic, gel medium and screen on canvas, 57 1/2 x 33 inches. Museum purchase, 2000.51

  • Tony King, American, born 1944. Black Totem, 1974. Acrylic and casein on canvas. 96 x 48 inches. Gift of the Friends of Modern Art, 1976.9