Early in the 1940s, artists in New York began to develop an expressive, abstract style of painting that was a stark departure from previous ideas, both artistically and historically. Inspired in part by the aesthetic vocabulary of Surrealism and a growing interest in psychoanalysis and the unconscious, artists in New York developed bold new practices.
In this installation, paintings from SAM’s collection by Hans Hofmann, Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner provide a glimpse of the energy and movement of what became known as Abstract Expressionism. Abstract painting continued to dominate the artistic discourse in the 1950s and early 1960s, but the concerns began to shift from the tactility and energy of the painted gesture to a preoccupation with emphasizing the flatness of the canvas. In works by Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis this is achieved by thinned paint that saturates the canvas and melds with the support.
By contrast, works by Frank Stella and California painter Sam Francis in the 1960s pose different questions. Francis’ large-scale painting frames an enormous expanse of white by a thin painted border, blurring the line between image and frame. Stella’s shaped canvases go a step further—they engage in a subtle play with perspective space. The paintings’ irregular shapes place them at the juncture of painting and sculptural object and position them in relation to the surrounding architecture.