Man Ray (Born Emmanuel Radnitzky, 1890 – 1976) became dissatisfied with his initial composition for this work, The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself With Shadows (1916), which was inspired by a tightrope performance he had seen in a vaudeville show. He had originally arranged pieces of colored paper cut into the shapes of the tightrope dancer’s acrobatic forms. Glancing down at the floor, he noticed that the discarded scraps of paper from which the shapes had been cut formed an abstract pattern resulting from chance. Comparing the accidental pattern with shadows that a dancer might have cast on the floor, he incorporated it into his composition.
Norman Lewis (1909 – 1979), began his art career as a figurative painter, focusing on life in Harlem. In 1946, he announced that he wanted to create art that broke away from what he called “its stagnation in too much tradition.” Inspired by the writings and art of the Russian painter Vasily Kandinsky, one of the first artists to create abstract paintings, Lewis abandoned representation in favor of the “conceptual expression” of ideas. Like other Abstract Expressionists working in New York, Lewis was deep interested in music, and especially jazz, which influenced the painting of Phantasy II (1946). In an automatic process he made a linear composition with boldly colored lines and forms akin to the improvisational structure of jazz.
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.
A cacophonous summary of the grand aspirations and unrest of the late 196os, Robert Rauschenberg’s Signs (1970) was originally commissioned as a cover for Time Magazine. When the collage was rejected by the publication, Rauschenberg turned it into a print “conceived to remind us of the love, terror, and violence of the last 10 years. Danger lies in forgetting.” United States soldiers in Vietnam, peace protestors and the anonymous victim of an urban riot are combined with the images of five public figures, three of them recently murdered: President John F. Kennedy, presidential candidate Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. They are joined by Buzz Aldrin, the second person to walk on the moon, and the singer Janis Joplin, who died from a drug overdose a few months after Signs was made.
Photographed as part of the exhibit Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends, at the Museum of Modern Art Through September 17th, 2017.
Valuing geometric simplicity and economy of means, Lina Bo Bardi (1914 – 1992) designed the Poltona Bowl Chair with a steel frame and stackable seat containing two circular cushions.
The shell on the metal ring can be adjusted in all directions to suit the position of the sitter. Bo Bardi, who emigrated from Italy to Brazil in 1946, played a lead role in advancing modernist architecture and design in postwar Brazil. Among the landmark buildings she designed was her Sao Paulo home, the Glass House (Casa de Vidro) which she furnished with Poltrona Bowl Chairs.
Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, where it is on display for the first time as part of the exhibit, Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction, on view through August 13th, 2017.
In Francis Picabia’s Selfishness (1947-48), colorful rounds of saturated paint surround a large, crudely rendered phallic shape. This relatively simple composition is energized by heavily encrusted impasto and gestural paint-handling. Built-up ridges of oil paint score the surface, giving the work a dramatic, almost frenzied topography. This sense of substrate activity speaks to Picabia’s ongoing play with surfaces, which here takes the form of accumulation and opacity. The material thickening on display in Selfishness was an artistic strategy shared by others in postwar Paris. Participants in the turn to abstraction known as Art Informel also created works with heavily textured surfaces, and they, too valued direct expression. This work’s erotic imagery finds its echo in Picabia’s contemporaneous illustrated letters, which were an important element of his artistic practice.
Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art as Part of the Exhibit, Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round So Our Thoughts Can Change Direction.
The frightening central figure in this painting by Francis Picabia is taken from a Surrealist photograph by the young photographer Erwin Blumenfeld. The source image in The Adoration of The Calf (1941-42), which was reproduced in the Paris press in 1938, features the head of a dead calf posed atop a classical torso draped with fabric, and possibly refers to Hitler. To Blumenfeld’s composition, Picabia added a series of dramatically lit, expressionistically painted hands, many of which are splayed open in gestures of entreaty. They seem to emerge from the bottom of the canvas, suggesting the presence of bodies just out of sight. Although Picabia was a resolutely apolitical artist, it is difficult not to read this painting, and its cynical vision of the worship of false idols, as an engagement with contemporary politics.
Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC as part of the Exhibit Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round So Our Thoughts Can Change Direction.