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FALL 2013 ~ AUGUST 20 – DECEMBER 14 The ‘cone, cylinder, and sphere’ of Cézanne-fame have perished in much 20th-century painting. Even where these forms are not purely represented, abstract artists have tended toward a compilation of separable elements. Form has been treated as discrete entities…The whole picture becomes the unit; forms extend the length of the painting or are restricted to two or three tones. The result of this sparseness is that the spatial effect of figures on a field is avoided.
English art critic, Lawrence Alloway, Systemic Painting, 1966
any European artists came to abstraction through a rebellion against the teaching of traditional and representational imagery within academic circles. In the early 20th century, PostImpressionism was evolving into Expressionism, yet the precedent for Modernism in art began nearly 40 years earlier. For Modernists, art moved away from shadows and contours of line, strict perspective, scale and the application of paint on canvas. Artists found fulfillment in color theory, ambiguity of space, angles and the negation of depicting the definite. French artists including Édouard Manet and Claude Monet transitioned from Realism to Impressionism and leaned towards an individual aesthetic experience, effectively disrupting the academic system of art instruction. A new era was on its way before the end of the 19th century. Art benefited from modern technologies and new modes of thinking that were introduced during the Industrial Revolution. Visual artists, writers and musicians
Paul Chidlaw (American, 1900-1989) Spring Comes to the World, 1982 Acrylic on canvas 32 x 36 inches Gift of the Artist 1985.83
in Europe were active participants in this new exploration, much to the dismay of many of their contemporaries who sought to maintain traditional artistic ideals. During periods of political revolution and change many different strains of thought can emerge. Art is no different. As artists moved away from the representational studies of the nude, still lifes and landscapes, individual evaluations began to surface about where art was going. In an attempt to assess such developments, art critics and historians categorized and labeled artists and their works. Consistent characteristics that were carried forward from one movement to another made it difficult to clearly distinguish the styles. Abstraction is one such concept that appears throughout much of the 20th century, beginning in Europe and eventually permeating artistic circles around the world. Pure abstraction was first achieved in the works of Russian-born Wassily Kandinsky. Working in Munich, Germany, in the opening decades of the 20th century, Kandinsky became concerned with the spiritual experience in art rather than the material aspects of creating. In his 1912 publication, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky wrote, “The harmony of color and form must be based solely upon the principle of the proper contact with the human soul.” Along with fellow artists in Germany, Kandinsky believed that pure feeling should not be attached to an object. Instead, abstract art is created through a series of nonobjective art forms based on simple shapes with no reference to tangible objects other than identifiable geometric shapes. Simultaneously, Spanish-born Pablo Picasso and
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Georges Braque, a Frenchman, were working in Paris developing the principles of what became known as Analytic Cubism and later a second phase, called Synthetic Cubism. Cubism provided a method for deconstructing the world and reassembling it through multiple lenses, allowing the artist and viewer to have a visual experience of the total image. Although Kandinsky, Picasso and Braque were experimenting with different techniques and in different circles, together they were looking beyond the surface of what constituted art and exploring new methods for creating and perceiving art. The greatest boom in nontraditional art occurred in the United States following the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, also known as the New York Armory Show. Approximately 1,300 paintings, sculptures and works of decorative arts by American and European avant-garde artists were on display. The innovative approaches to making art motivated many young American artists in relatively conservative art communities to step outside of the box and look forward. Modernism had reached a global scale through the efforts of Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Jacques Villon, Stuart Davis and Marcel Duchamp, who boldly challenged the 19th century academic teachings and traditional methods of creating and seeing. World War I and World War II contributed to the growth of modernism and the expansion of abstraction in America. Numerous European avantgarde artists and educators fled persecution for their nontraditional views, arriving primarily in New York and Chicago. Many were teachers at prominent art schools in Europe, including the famed Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany. In the United States, they devoted their energies to the progression of new ideas and methods at institutions such as the New Bauhaus in Chicago; Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina, and the Provincetown Art School in Massachusetts. These schools became the incubators for immeasurable creativity that spread beyond the visual arts, especially at the Black Mountain College where writers, musicians
Ilya Bolotowsky (American, b. Russia, 1907-1981) Untitled, 1969 Serigraph on paper, Plate IV from a folio of VIII, number 62 of an edition of 125 22 1/8 x 22 1/2 inches Gift to Miami University 1950.PR.0.27
Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991) Jalapa 35, Homage to Franz Kline, 1973 Black & White photograph 9 3/4 x 9 1/2 inches Miami University Art Museum Purchase and Gift of Cal Kowal 1991.368
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Julian Stanczak (American, b. Poland, 1928) Untitled #2, 1969 Color lithograph on paper, number 2 of an edition of 165 24 1/2 x 24 1/2 inches Gift of Walter I. Farmer 1991.578
and artists lived, learned and worked together. Abstract artists including Wassily Kandinsky, Ilya Bolotowsky, Josef Albers, Hans Hofmann, Aaron Siskind and Robert Motherwell were among the many American and European masters who taught the next generation of artists. They not only instructed techniques and ways of seeing nonrepresentational and representational works, but they also discussed art history and advancing art theories. These teachers and students, collectively and individually, explored the vision that art has no boundaries as long as the imagination continues to push the limits of concepts and materials. Through their insight, abstraction
has transformed and grown over the years to include printmaking, collage, photography, metal working and sculpture, installation art, public monuments, interactive environments and, now in the digital age, computer-generated imagery. Nonrepresentational art forms continue to illustrate various shared and personal experiences, such as the human condition, nature, politics, religion, gender issues, social commentary and environmental concerns. Although the visual treatment of abstraction may differ among artists whose interests lean toward Dada, Abstract Expressionism, color field theory, hard-edge and shaped canvas techniques, Constructivism, Minimalism, and Op Art, among many other influences, the quest for new methods of nonrepresentational expression was and continues to be universally explored. For artists and viewers alike, abstraction provides a door into a world where the intangible can exist. Furthermore, nonrepresentational art can offer the potential for individual interpretation based on the viewerâ€™s personal experiences and associations. This concept continues to be taught in art schools, universities and colleges. It is not only essential for the artist, but also for the viewer in order to independently understand and appreciate art. Through artistic exploration artists continually invite viewers to question their opinion of what constitutes art through the observation and study of shapes and colors. Pure abstraction, or nonrepresentational art, presents a challenge for viewers to interpret the images and form meaningful conclusions about what they perceive.
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Exhibition graphics by design student Sloane Fuller.
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Published on Aug 20, 2013
Prints, photographs, drawings and sculpture from the permanent collection examine how 20th century abstraction reflects changing attitudes t...