Palm Springs Art Museum
Palm Desert
Edwards Harris Center


06/29/13 - 09/29/13
Annenberg Wing
Palm Springs Art Museum

After 1945, a group of New York artists working in an abstract style became identified as Abstract Expressionists. Artists like Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline were primarily concerned with the broad gesture of the brush and the texture of paint, while Mark Rothko and Adolf Gottlieb used large areas of color and form to make their statements. Art critics Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, recognizing the importance of this new style, passionately promoted Abstract Expressionism as the first American Modernist movement. The recognition of the movement became official with the 1951 Museum of Modern Art exhibition Abstract Painting and Sculpture in America.

On the West Coast, artists in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Los Angeles applied this spontaneous approach to painting. The presence of New York artists Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) influenced the next generation of artists who pursued gestural painting.

Color-field painting followed in the mid-1950s as an extension of Abstract Expressionism. Jackson Pollock, who poured and dripped paint on canvases spread on the floor instead of on an easel or wall, inspired the emotional use of overall color. Rejecting gestural brushwork, artists such as Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland stained unprimed canvases by pouring paint in thin layers rather than by brushing. In 1960 critic Greenberg described this painting technique as canvas that “being soaked in paint rather than merely covered by it, becomes paint in itself, color in itself, like dyed cloth.”

Color-field painters accentuated the two-dimensional quality or flatness of a painting rather than an illusion of three-dimensions. Paul Jenkins applied color in veils that almost span the entire canvas. Frankenthaler applied many layers of thin washes. Light seems to emerge through their translucent scrims of color.

When observed up close, a large color-saturated painting seems to surround the viewer in an abundance of color. Such an environment presents a contemplative or meditative experience for the viewer, who is invited to respond emotionally to the painting.

This exhibition is organized by the Palm Springs Art Museum.