Alvin Loving (1935 – 2005) once described geometric shape as “a sort of mundane form that could be very, very dull unless a great deal was done with it.” For him, however, geometry ultimately became an arena in which to develop a dramatic color sensibility. Juxtaposing neon-bright pigments, in Septehedron 34 (1970) he created the illusion that the painting’s forms recede or advance relative to one another. At the same time, his use of geometric forms emphasized the flat surface of the canvas, from which a tension emerges between real and imagined space. Also notable for its visible brush stocks, Loving’s shaped canvas takes up the challenge of making all seven sides of a heptahedron visible at once.
In 1969, Alvin Loving became the first African American artist to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum.
Photographed as Part of the Exhibit Spilling Over: Painting Color in the 1960s, On View Through August 31st, 2019 at the Whitney Museum in NYC.
Influenced by Piet Mondrian’s work from the 1910s and 1920s, American artist Burgoyne Diller (1906 – 1965) devised his own abstract formats in the 1930s. Divided into groups called “First, Second, and Third Themes,” Diller’s three series explore the sense of movement generated by different arrangements of geometric forms within a square. Second Theme pictures, such as this one (1938 -40), feature a grid system with rectangular bands of differing widths extending across the canvas.
Photographed the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
In 1919, Lyubov Popova (1889- 1924) described painting as “Construction,” the building blocks of which were color and line. In this work, Painterly Architectonic (1917), brightly colored, irregularly shaped planes are layered are layered against a neutral background. The curved bottom edge of a grey shape emerging from beneath a red triangle and a white trapezoid suggests three-dimensionality, while the vibrant colors and jutting edges that seem to extend beyond the frame evoke energetic movement. Painterly Architectonic is one of a series of works that Popova created between 1915 and 1919 is response to Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist paintings.
Shirana Shahbazi (b. 1974) makes photographs in classic genres like portraiture, still life, and landscape. Alternating between abstraction and representation, her vividly colored pictures are made in the crisp style of commercial studio photography without the aid of digital tools. She achieves her abstract compositions, such as Composition-40-2011 (2011) by photographing geometric volumes and pedestals whose sides are painted various colors, making multiple exposures of the same set of elements, and turning them between exposures to create an interplay between surface and depth.
This work is by an artist from a nation whose citizens would be denied entry into the United States according to recent presidential executive orders. This is one of several such artworks from the Museum of Modern Art’s collection installed throughout its fifth floor galleries to affirm the ideals of welcome and freedom as vital to MoMA, as they are to the United States.
In 1965, Achille Castiglioni (Italian, 1918 – 2002) created Model RR-126, a striking, modular stereo system that was based on pure geometry of a perfect cube, which could be combined in multiple configurations. The wheeled base provides an element of portability, while the graphic patterns of the speaker grilles and sound controls offer a bold, modern visual statement.
Photographed in the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in Manhattan.
The strong three-dimensionality of the biomorphic and geometric forms in this composition makes them appear animated within a space bounded by color zones. Charles Biederman (1906 – 2004) had been experimenting with styles of European modernism since 1930 and had gravitated toward greater abstraction after seeing the work of Cubist artists, newly on view in New York. He painted this untitled work while living in Paris in 1936, under the fresh influences of surrealists Joan Miro and Fernand Leger, who preferred strange or oddly combined forms that were both unsettling and humorous.
Charles Biederman died at home in 2004 at the age of 98. His estate was given to the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, which has organized traveling exhibitions of Biederman’s work
A distinguishing feature of the new Whitney Museum in the meatpacking district is this work by Mary Heilmann, attached to the northern facade of the building, which is called Sunset. A burst of bright pink, Sunset is a site specific installation that inaugurates the museum’s largest outdoor gallery and transforms it into a place of reverie, memory and leisure.
Mary Heilmann became known in the 197os for vibrant paintings that married taut, abstract forms with quivering line and vivid color. For more than thirty years, she has intermittently explored a stair-step motif bushed within rectangular fields or expressed through irregularly-shaped canvases, which happen to rhyme with the dramatic setbacks and grid lines of the Whitney’s new building. This serendipitous connection inspired Heilmann to enlarge a detail of one such painting and print it onto two large panels that playfully turn the building itself into her canvas and tweak its sharp geometries.
Heilmann’s intervention extends to a group of sculptural chairs scattered on the terrace like a shower of confetti. Adapted from furniture that she has displayed in homes and exhibitions, the chairs serve as elements in her larger composition and encourage visitors to interact with one another and the cityscape beyond.