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23 June – 26 August 2012
Palm Springs Art Museum

During the turn of the twentieth century, two distinct currents in European art may be identified. The first were artists who upheld a fading classical tradition. They promoted representational art that was based on the academic study of the figure, landscape and still life. The other group was the forerunners of what is generally termed Modern Art. They expressed freedom and independence from established styles and explored the concept of purely abstract painting. 

Robert Motherwall, The Big 4, acrylic and chalk on canvas, gift of the Dedalus Foundation and museum purchase with funds provided by the Contemporary Art Council and others., licensed by VAGA, New York, 1986, © Dedalus Foundation, Inc.

Between Abstract and Figurative begins with the Impressionist artists Edouard Manet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir who translated pigment on canvas to capture life, nature and the effects of light and atmosphere.  Post-Impressionist amplifications of emotion are expressed through vivid color by Henri Matisse and Vincent Van Gogh. 

Also included are paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by American artists who countered the prevailing purely abstract mode to work with the figure. Continuing with New York Abstract Expressionist painters of the mid-twentieth century, the exhibition extends through the 1990s to track the mature manifestations of figuration in California. 

The American artists fall into several subcategories: Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, and Robert Motherwell, first-generation Abstract Expressionist masters, worked in an abstract mode that used the figure as a framework on which to build their gestural expressionistic canvases. Another generation of artists developed among the San Francisco Bay Area Figurative group such as Joan Brown, Manuel Neri, Nathan Oliveira, and Paul Wonner, who began with a classical concept of the figure that was transposed through their painterly, expressionist sensibility. 

The interest in contemporary realism is seen in the works of Eric Fischl, Philip Pearlstein, D.J. Hall, and others who imply a narrative content with figures characterized by non-gestural or non-expressionistic handling. Duane Hanson's fully clothed figures become submerged within the environment -- their everyday reality. Tender, humorous, embarrassingly truthful portraits of ordinary people provoke introspection. 

In the development of modern and contemporary art, the figure has been transformed into an important subject for artistic expression, self discovery, and a direct means to address the human condition. 

This exhibition is organized by the Palm Springs Art Museum.