September 8 – December 9, 2012
From the Vault curated by UAM Director Chris Scoates, show cases several new acquisitions alongside a selection of works from the University Art Museum's Gordon F. Hampton Collection of second-generation Abstract Expressionist and Color Field paintings. These two late Modernist movements redefined the possibilities of art and determined the direction of American painting in the second half of the twentieth century.
The decades leading up to the 1940s were times of tremendous social upheaval and political unrest. The Great Depression, the Second World War, and the reality of the atomic bomb threw the ideals of modern society into question. Confronting the horrific destruction brought about by these events, artists associated with Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting aspired to a new style of art that would reaffirm faith and belief in humankind. They believed abstract art could communicate the most profound human values and emotion.
A number of works from the Hampton Collection offer an opportunity to consider these issues more closely. Adolph Gottlieb’s Weirs at Dawn (1949), with its complex series of pictographic images, does not refer to the hieroglyphs of the ancient past. Rather, Gottlieb sought to communicate his experience of the modern world through symbols that reference the harsh realities and horrors of his era. The exhibition includes two important early works by Lee Krasner who emerged as an essential figure in postwar American art. Untitled (1938-39) and Gothic Frieze (1950) are exemplary of Krasner’s early works, animated by a network of fierce lines, shapes, and gestural brushstrokes. From the Vault also includes a newly acquired work in pastel and oil on paper by Michael Goldberg, which compliments the four large canvases by the artist already in the UAM collection. Goldberg’s artistic career was marked by intense interest in developing a complex abstract language in which compositions were layered with hints of underlying structures and visual allusions.
Five seminal works by expressionist painter Emerson Woelffer receive their UAM premiere with this exhibition. Highly influential on the west coast, Woelffer devised an aesthetic vocabulary deeply inspired by primitivism and Surrealist automatism. Woelffer’s monumental work, The Secret of Elopement (1947) merges his Surrealist ideas with Abstract Expressionist angst and highlights his distinctive use of pure color, line, and shape. Recent artworks by younger abstract painters Kris Chatterson and Michelle Fierro are also presented. Both painters possess a loosely calligraphic style and use brilliantly colored and intricate compositions to push the limits of abstraction. Making allusions to abstract experimentation, the work of both painters reflects their central relationship to twentieth century abstraction and its ongoing lineage within today's art. Works by Hannelore Baron, Richard Diebenkorn, Milton Resnick, and Norton Wisdom round out the exhibition.