The first exhibition in the main ground floor gallery of Philbrook Downtown, Opening Abstraction, will present an arrangement of artwork focusing on one of the most revolutionary approaches taken in twentieth- and twenty-first century art: abstraction. The exhibition’s title is meant to evoke not only the fact that it is the premiere show in the new gallery space, but also the idea that abstraction is better opened to various interpretations and manifestations than rigidly defined. This gathering of works selected by Nancy E. Meinig Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Lauren Ross, are drawn mostly from Philbrook’s permanent collection, with a few supplemental, key loans. Opening Abstraction will touch on some of the many manifestations that abstraction has taken, from stylized approaches of recognizable subjects to completely non-representational work. A non-chronological presentation of works created between the end of World War II and the present will allow products of different eras to be experienced side-by-side. The exhibition will be arranged into three loosely themed sections:
Even with advent of abstraction, artists continued to depict landscape and the human figure, albeit in more stylized fashions. The exhibition’s first section focuses on these fundamental organic subjects. The human figure is distorted in prints by such Max Ernst and LeCorbusier,
as well as in later video projection by Tony Oursler. The natural environment is addressed in disparate ways, from the calm prints and paintings by American master Georgia O’Keeffe to the chaotic sculptural assemblage by Leonardo Drew.
Abstraction is often used by artists to emote their own psychological states and explore the intangible spiritual realm. This desire will be seen in examples encompassing Abstract Expressionism, Color Field, and other movements in painting. Post-War examples of work by artists such as Morris Louis and Clyfford Still will be shown alongside later works by Willem deKooning, Joseph Glasco, Gary Simmons, and others.
The Built Environment
The exhibition’s final section looks at the influence of the man-made and the built environment in works that reference cities, architecture, and industry. Fracturing of space is utilized by A.E. Gallatin, Ralston Crawford, and Stuart Davis. Richard Serra uses monochromatic black to create darkness, while Josiah McElheny explores the abstracting capabilities of light bouncing off of mirrored glass. Elsewhere, we see artists using found objects, whether in Robert Rauschenberg’s mimicking of found materials or the use of scavenged objects by young artists Sabrina Gschwandtner and Andy Coolquitt.