Honor Fraser Gallery is pleased to present Openness and Clarity: Color Field Works from the 1960s and 1970s, curated by Hayden Dunbar. On view from June 7 through August 2, 2014, the show will include works by Josef Albers, Anthony Caro, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, and Frank Stella.
Assembling works rarely exhibited in Los Angeles, Openness and Clarity seeks to examine the pivotal role that Color Field painters and their direct predecessors played in the evolution of abstract art, while also proving the work’s persisting ability to captivate the contemporary eye. The title of the exhibition references Clement Greenberg’s catalog essay for his seminal 1964 exhibition, Post Painterly Abstraction, which championed a new group of artists that rejected painterliness in favor of an “openness and clarity” in color and contour. Organized for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the exhibition introduced thirty-one artists whose restrained arrangements of saturated color in vaporous soft-edged shapes and geometrical hard-edged forms reacted to the dense, gestural brushwork and raw emotion of the Abstract Expressionists. Diminishing distinctions between object and ground, these paintings formed a cool-headed and fresh visual language that de-emphasized line to privilege the perceptual effects of color: “What sets the best Color Field paintings apart is the extraordinary economy of means with which they manage not only to engage our feelings but also to ravish the eye.” (Karen Wilkin, Color As Field: American Painting, 1950 – 1975, p. 17.)
Marking the fiftieth anniversary of LACMA’s historic exhibition, Openness and Clarity presents a selection of exceptional works by five artists who were integral to Greenberg’s thesis and were instrumental in advancing abstraction in the 1960s and 1970s: Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, and Frank Stella. Though not included in Post Painterly Abstraction, the works of Josef Albers establish a direct link between these artists’ early and ongoing emphasis on color and form. As a teacher at Black Mountain College and Yale University, his work and ideas set a foundation for younger artists to expand upon and rebel against. His inclusion in this exhibition also underscores the social framework within which all of these artists were working and which provided a sphere of mutual influence. Albers’s Homage to the Square: Warm-Near (1966) is an example of his commitment to pure geometry and the interaction of color.
Using an all-over staining technique to achieve lyrical, floating shapes and radiant hues, Helen Frankenthaler poured and applied washes of thinned paint with rags in works like Bach’s Sacred Theater (1973). After Greenberg showed him Frankenthaler’s work, Louis followed her lead and embarked on intense experimentation with materials and color that led to the various acclaimed series he completed before his untimely death at age forty-nine. Kaf (1959-1960) is from his Floral series, an excellent and rarely seen example of Louis’s breakthrough work. Greenberg also introduced Noland to Frankenthaler’s innovations, and like Louis (Noland’s close friend) he embraced the potential of staining unprimed canvas with thinned pigments. A student of Albers, Noland invigorated his devotion to geometry with unusually shaped and stained canvases, as can be seen in works like Bolton Landing: Singing the Blues (1962) and Warm Weekend (1967). A close friend of Louis and Noland, Jules Olitski was a bold colorist whose biomorphic forms alternately floated in monochromatic fields (as in Mushroom Joy ) and pushed at the edges of the canvas (as in Z ).
Known as an Abstract Expressionist and part of The New York School, Robert Motherwell took a minimal approach to the use of color in the late 1960s, creating a series of expansive, nearly monochromatic canvases. Open No. 20: In Orange with Charcoal Line (1968) demonstrates Motherwell’s interest in color and composition as subjects. Like Motherwell and Noland, Frank Stella turned to painting as the subject matter for painting, pushing beyond the conventional rectilinear limits of the canvas and challenging notions of painting and objecthood. Sunapee IV (1966) from Stella’s Irregular Polygon series demonstrates his ability to marry color and form. On loan from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Ctesiphon I (1968) is part of Stella’s Protractor Variation series and exemplifies the rigor and energy for which he became so well known. These radical geometries are echoed in Anthony Caro’s Dumbfound (1976). On a 1960 visit from England to the United States, Caro met Greenberg, Noland, Louis, and the sculptor David Smith, all of whom made a lasting impression on him. Returning to England, Caro developed a monochromatic collage style that favored open forms and horizontality, which can be seen in Dumbfound (1976).
Openness and Clarity pays tribute to the legacy of Color Field artists who paved the way for Minimalism, Conceptual, and Pop art, creating an enduring shift in the course of art history that can still be seen today.