Webs, Loops, and Skeins in Modern and Contemporary Art
"Web," "loop," and "skein" are terms usually associated with textiles, but they are also surprisingly common referents for the formal qualities of a wide range of art created over the past 60 years. These words are particularly apt for describing the linear, gestural painting of American Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, whose work gained critical acclaim in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Their calligraphic abstractions were meant to convey the direct process and expression of the artist, an idea borrowed from Surrealists who emigrated to the United States before and during World War II. The Surrealists' commitment to "automatic writing" - allowing the unconscious to guide the creative process - was extremely influential. The artist's gestures, whether handwriting or larger movements of the body, became the vocabulary of personal self-discovery and revelation of his or her psychological states.
Moving forward from the work of the Abstract Expressionists, this exhibition explores how such processes have continued to resonate for generations, not just in painting and drawing, but also in sculpture and printmaking. The artists who came immediately after the Abstract Expressionists frequently removed personal associations by combining handmade marks with mundane imagery. For example, Jasper Johns used numbers as subject matter, and Cy Twombly filled heroic-scale paintings with illegible scrawls. Some artists eliminated the emotional and individual references in their work by reducing their compositions to basic geometric elements, such as Robert Mangold's compositions of the 1960s and 1970s of simple shapes drawn within polygons. Others evaded the personal by using industrial materials or machinelike precision to create optically vibrant pieces. The grid structure so essential to many of these works has since relaxed, as in Sol LeWitt's gouache drawing, Web-Like Grid, 2001.
Drawn primarily from the Museum's collection, this exhibition highlights manyrecent acquisitions by younger artists, including those made with the Paula and Leonard Granoff Fund for the purchase of contemporary drawing and The Richard Brown Baker Fund for Contemporary British Art.