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16 July – 23 December 2011
Palm Springs Art Museum

This selection from the museum’s permanent collection is a broad examination of geometric abstract paintings, sculptures and prints from the 1960s and 1970s, a period known for its purity of style. Approximately 100 works represent a variety of ideas in Optical Art, Kinetic art, Minimalism, Hard-Edge and Color- Field. Many of the exhibited works, impressive in their sheer visual power, have rarely been on view or are on view for the first time.

The purely abstract works are chiefly concerned with the square, rectangle, triangle, circle and geometric volumes such as the cube and cone. While the forms do not generally depict familiar objects or scenes, they are often arranged to suggest architecture and geometry. The artists employ primary colors, lines, and compositional devices as an alternative way of presenting sensual experience, ideas about art, or principles of reality.

Many artists use color as the primary element in reductive geometric compositions. Josef Albers brought Bauhaus systemization to art in his Homage to the Square series, which he called “platters for color.” In these works Albers explores an illusion whereby a square lying between two other squares will subtly take on the hues of its neighbors. He termed this the “interaction of color.” In Ellsworth Kelly’s explorations of color, mass, and line, color envelopes the viewer with its own presence and richness, rather than being subsumed by a figurative element.

Optical Art (or Op Art), a trend that uses optical illusions to simulate motion and other perceptual shifts, is seen in the experiments of Victor Vasarely, Carlos Cruz-Diez, and Yaacov Agam. They mix geometry with optical illusions and effects to bring art alive to the viewers’ eyes. Their silkscreens with bright yellows, reds and oranges are interspersed with complementary hues so finely that the interactions between the colors seem to give off light and vibrations.

In Jesus Rafael Soto’s classic works, he combines monochromatic wood panels with oscillating metal plates that introduce a dynamic spatial and perceptual tension between the artwork and the viewer. Soto searched for the means of pushing abstraction beyond mere illusionism by putting color in motion. The sensation of constant flux transforms the elements of painting – color, space, line – into pure perceptual experience.

Artists from the southern California Abstract Classicist movement including John McLaughlin, Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, and Helen Lundeberg focus on the contemplative function of painting as an invention of human consciousness. Often infused with gentle blues, whites, yellows, and olive greens, their hardedge works are keenly reflective of the unique qualities of light and space – characteristics of the southern California coastline.

This exhibition was organized by Palm Springs Art Museum’s Chief Curator Katherine Plake Hough