Meandering Abstractly, exhibition view, galerie frank elbaz, Dallas, TX, USA, 2017 Photo: Kevin Todora
For decades after MoMA’s 1936 exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art Alfred Barr’s iconic diagram was the image of modern art’s history: a series of –isms hung on a genealogical tree, from post-Impressionism to Surrealism. In 2013, the same institution envisaged a 21st century update, more interlacing network than hereditary branches. Meandering, Abstractly re-visits postwar European abstraction via less well-known routes: Zagreb and Peru, instead of New York and Düsseldorf.
The show’s basic question is this: how did artists like Julije Knifer, Mangelos, Martin Barré, Bernard Piffaretti, and Sheila Hicks come to re-interpret the legacies of Malevitch, Mondrian, Max Bill, and Josef Albers in such unexpected and highly original ways, leading them to produce works whose extraordinary inventiveness is due in no small part to the unique historical and geographic circumstances of their creation.
Knifer’s Meander M/3, 1972, whose winding black band is both startlingly simple yet dynamic, can serve as a visual metaphor for the exhibition’s path, which will likewise follow the complex development of abstraction across a variety of artists and media. Chronologically, it begins with the late 1950s and early 1960s work by Knifer and Mangelos, members of the Zagreb neo-avant-garde group Gorgona (recently highlighted in MoMA’s 2014 exhibition Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America, 1960-1980 and in solo shows at galerie frank elbaz and Peter Freeman, Inc). Their special position between East and West led them to break with the Russian models of their teachers and to produce some of the earliest abstract works in postwar Europe.
Recent scholarship by critics and contemporary artists themselves has led to a burgeoning interest in the conceptual painting of postwar France. Martin Barré and Bernard Piffaretti represent two generations of French artists who during the 1970s and 1980s worked out conceptual schemes from within painting at a time when the medium was erroneously thought to be dead. Included here is a large Martin Barré painting that will be shown for the very first time since its original exhibition in 1979. A forthcoming retrospective is being organized by Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, for 2018.
Finally, the fabric pieces of Sheila Hicks reveal a more global route to abstraction, one begun at Yale in the 1950s in the company of the art historian George Kubler and Bauhaus artists Anni and Josef Albers, passing through the textile traditions of Latin America, before finally landing in Paris in 1964, where her radical approach to color and shape has thrived ever since. Her fiber constructions are increasingly being shown in major exhibitions and commissions, including the Whitney Biennial, Hayward Gallery, and the Musée Carnavalet.
Paul Galvez holds a PhD from Columbia University. He is a Research Fellow at the Edith O'Donnell Institute of Art History, where he works on modern art from the nineteenth century to the present. His writing has appeared in journals such as Artforum, Cahiers d’art moderne, and October as well as in several monographs: Courbet: A Dream of Modern Art (Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, 2011); Martin Barré: the decisive years (Éditions Dilecta, Paris, 2013), an exhibition catalogue published the same year as a 2-person show he curated on the work of Barré and R.H. Quaytman at Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris; Brice Marden: Graphite Drawings (Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, 2014); David Balula: Ember Harbor (Shelter Press, 2014); Bernard Piffaretti, 1980-2016 - Catalogue Raisonnable (MAMCO, Geneva, 2016); and Bernard Piffaretti, Works: 1986-2015 (Karma, New York, 2016).