Edward Hopper’s Seven A.M. (1948) depicts an anonymous storefront cast in the oblique, eerie shadows and cool light of early morning. The store’s shelves stand empty, and the few odd products displayed in the window provide no evidence of the store’s function. A clock on the wall confirms the time given in the title, and indeed the painting seems to depict a specific moment and place. Yet a series of Hopper’s preparatory sketches reveal that he experimented with significant compositional variations, depicting a figure in the second story window. He even considered setting the painting at another time of day. His wife, Josephine Hopper, a respected artist herself, described the store as a “blind pig” — a front for some illicit operation, perhaps alluding to the painting’s forbidding overtones.
One of the most versatile and inventive English artists of the postwar era, David Hockey settled in Los Angeles in 1964. An especially iconic example from a group of double portraits of friends and associates from the 1960s, American Collectors (1968) depicts the contemporary-art collectors Fred and Marcia Weisman in the sculpture garden of their of their Los Angeles home. As stiff and still as the objects surrounding them, the couple stands apart, his stance echoed in the totem pole to the right, hers in the Henry Moore sculpture behind her. Brilliant light flatters the scene and sets the couple in sharp relief; they seem oblivious to each other as well as to their art
The Drinkers (1890) was painted during Vincent Van Gogh’s time in the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Remy-de-Provence, a small town in the south of France. Van Gogh was highly productive during this time, but he struggled to maintain confidence in his own abilities as painter. To retrain himself, he made a number of copies after the works of artists he admired, which freed him from having to produce original compositions and allowed him to concentrate instead on interpretation. Van Gogh borrowed this composition from a black and white print after Honore-Victorin Daumier, but the vibrant colors were his own invention. The greenish palette may be an allusion to the notorious alcoholic drink, Absinthe.
By the 1970s, Roy Lichtenstein’s comic-strip style of painting had become his trademark. While he had adapted his early compositions from actual comic books, here Lichtenstein referred to an art historical rather than a pop culture source: Henri Matisse’s Red Studio (1911, in the collection of MoMA), which features Matisse’s canvases casually set around a room. Into the flattened studio space of Artists Studio Foot Medication (1974), Lichtenstein similarly inserted whole of partial versions of his own real and imagined artworks across a range of subject matter, including geometric abstraction. This painting’s title calls out the 1962 print Foot Medication, reimagined as a monumental painting at the upper left. This kind of self-quotation, at once playful and thoughtful, would become anther feature of Lichtenstein’s production.
This painting, Expansion in Four Directions (1961 – 62), shares its lozenge shape and geometric divisions of color with many paintings by Piet Mondrian, whose work Max Bill (1908 – 1994) collected and in whom he was greatly interested. Bill trained at the Bauhaus in the 1920s under Josef Albers and was an architect and graphic designer as well as an artist. In his work, he aimed to transcend personal artistic expression to achieve universal communication, and to this end he used mathematics as a neutralizing compositional device.
The subject of an exhibition at the Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo in 1950 and winner of the grands prize for sculpture at the Sao Paulo Bienal in 1951, he helped to introduce a generation of Latin American artists to European geometric abstraction. Bill designed the catalogue for a 1955 Mondrian exhibition at the Zurich Kusthaus and lent to it three Mondrian paintings in his collection.
Katharina Fritsch makes meticulous reproductions of everyday objects, rendering them unfamiliar through extreme shifts in scale and either alluring or repellent color choices. Indeed, saturated and non reflective collators of color lend her sculptures a stones sense of otherworldliness.
“I always call the starting point [for a sculpture] a vision,” she has said. “I’ll be in a tram or driving a car and suddenly I get a picture in my mind. Something completely normal turns into a miracle — something I’ve never seen before. Simple things you see every day turn into something strange, something alien.”
Woman With Dog (2004) is clearly sealed up — enormously so — from from a small figurine made of seashells, as one might find in a beachside souvenir shop.
Chicago-based surrealist Gertrude Abercrombie (1909 – 1977) was acclaimed for her enigmatic paintings of stark interiors and illusory landscapes. On first glance, Self Portrait As My Sister (1941) appears to be relatively straight-forward representation, lacking the idiosyncratic imagery of her complex, dreamlike works. But Abercrombie was an only child, and the title’s allusion to a sister heightens the paradox of the painting. She frequently used self-portraiture as a means of trying on new guises and personas, later observing, “It’s always myself that I paint, but not actually, because I don’t look that good or cute.” Indeed, in her records she referred to this work as “Portrait of Artist as Ideal.” Her reference to a fictitious and prettier sister hints at desire to be a different person, a longing she could satisfy through her painting.
Having been employed as a department store janitor during his freshman year of college, Charles Ray (b. 1953) understands the unease that a mannequin — an inanimate object that one might readily mistake for a live human — can inspire. Ray’s work is also charged with purely sculptural tensions that exist between surface and interior, armature and appendage and / or size and scale. With Boy (1992), Ray created a particularly disquieting figure.
Museum Guard With Sense of Humor Poses With Boy
The sculpture stands just shy of six feet tall, the artist’s exact height, yet maintains the softness of youth in its rounded cheeks and limbs. The boy is clad in outdated garments, hovering ‘between baby and Hitler youth,” in the words of one critic. Additionally, the boy’s pose and gesture suggest a confrontational manner at odds with his neutral expression.
In Orange Mood (1966), Helen Frankenthaler (1928 – 2011) thinned acrylic paint to the consistency of watercolor in order to create larger, curving expanses of color through which the weave of the canvas remains visible. Like Jackson Pollack, she placed her canvas directly on the floor and poured paint from above, largely without the aid of a brush. Frankenthaler used color as her painterly language, but she never entirely abandoned representation. Although the references can be subtle, her paintings consistently evoke nature. The undulating forms in Orange Mood relate to a simplified landscape, with zones of color recalling different emotional states. Hue and shape convey place and feeling. “I think of my pictures as explosive landscapes, worlds and distances, held on a flat surface,” Frankenthaler once stated.
Photographed as Part of The Exhibit Spilling Over: Painting Color in the 1960s, On View Through August 2019 at the Whitney Museum in NYC.
Ad Reinhardt (1913 – 1967) studied both Eastern and Western art history at the undergraduate and graduate levels. He deepened his understanding of Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies by attending the lectures of Zen teacher Daisetz Suzuki at Columbia University. Number 22 (1949) shows Reinhardt fusing Eastern and Western traditions by using calligraphic brushwork inspired by Chinese and Japanese calligraphy in a gridded composition influenced by those of de Stijl cofounder Piet Mondrian.
Number 22, Detail
In classical East Asian painting, the fragility of paper wet with ink limits the artist’s ability to rework the composition. The sturdier canvas support and slower-drying oil paints used throughout much of the history of Western painting allows artists to highlight various revision and layering techniques. Although he worked in oil on canvas, Reinhardt chose to restrain himself and not rework his painting’s surface, in keeping with Asian calligraphic traditions. The result is a far more controlled manner of gestural painting than those of the Abstract Expressionists.