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2. A Definition

An exhibition of paintings from the late sixties — early seventies, by Dan Christensen, Ronald Davis, Ralph Humphrey, Ronnie Landfield, Brice Marden, William Pettet, Larry Poons, Frank Stella, and Peter Young.

This exhibition looks at the period when mainstream abstraction shifted away from Minimalism and turned to a new kind of Expressionism. What is Lyrical Abstraction? What is Colorfield Painting? What is Minimal Art? What is Abstract Expressionism? What is the difference between Lyrical Abstraction and Colorfield Painting? Why did so many painters change their work between 1965 and 1975? What is the relationship between separate generations and cultures and between individual artists? How specifically did these artists interact and how did the ideas in the works inter-relate? Is there an American aesthetic or is painting like mathematics an international language? Finally, are these paintings relevant and what power and meaning do these works of art have?

A careful and truthful examination of the paintings produced by many of these artists in the late sixties and early seventies will answer the questions posed above. This exhibition will examine an explosive and fertile period of advanced American Art that is critically important today and terribly misunderstood. The works in this exhibition surely cannot change the world but the philosophy behind these works of art are a powerhouse of ideas and possibilities that just might.

Advanced American painting and sculpture by 1960 took a decided turn away from gesture and became increasingly Pop, Minimal and Colorfield oriented. Although many artists continued producing gestural works of high quality, the attention of the art world in general shifted away from Abstract Expressionism toward Pop Art, Hard-Edge painting, Colorfield painting and Minimal Art.

A new sensibility and a new generation emerged and expanded the vocabulary of abstract painting and sculpture. Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns were seen as a bridge between Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt came into sharper focus in relationship to the younger painters. Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly. Larry Poons, Donald Judd, John Chamberlain, Anthony Caro, Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, are a few whose works came into the limelight in the early sixties.

By 1965 advanced painting and sculpture had taken reduction almost as far as it could go. Post-Minimalism, Conceptual Art and Lyrical Abstraction were three movements that began to emerge in that period. By 1970 abstract painters were letting it all hang out again.

While scores of artists cleaned up their acts so to speak, and abandoned gestural abstraction, Cy Twombly, Sam Francis, Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler come immediately to mind as artists who stuck to their guns and continued to develop their gestural styles. James Brooks, Richard Diebenkorn, Friedel Dzubas, Sam Gilliam, John Griefen, Hans Hartung, John Hoyland, Hans Hofmann, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, David Novros, Jules Olitski, Gerhardt Richter, Peter Reginato, Pierre Soulages, Joan Snyder, and Larry Stafford are a few artists who along with those listed in the previous sentence could also be included in this exhibition.

There is a gap in our understanding of the crossroads we faced at the end of the sixties. The avant-garde split into many different camps; radical academics took one road; and that road has turned many of them into successful entrepreneurs. Marginal elite who got rich. The art world has been co-opted in a giant paradox that turns the radical academics into totalitarians who control and contrive to control what did or did not happen. The petite politicians are everywhere in charge of the machinery — insuring that mediocrity rules. The collective memory is short and the time has come to straighten out what really happened.

What need is there for these works of art in a world of information superhighways, internets, international communication networks? The history has been written, re-written, unwritten, washed out, washed up, revamped, revised, repainted, and released. A good friend of mine said to me recently — "Please don't tell me too much of this history stuff — I'm an art critic and so I don't need to know it". The problem is that there is a need to speak out on behalf of the power, force and meaning that these artworks have. These are our valuable treasures. The need for positive emotion in the world has never been greater than it is today. The genuineness and excellence of the works in this exhibition demand our attention again before it is too late.

Frankly the critical writings of Donald Judd in the early sixties and the market strategy and vision of a handful of American and German art dealers define for us today what we now call cutting edge and important advanced art. What a joke. While no-one paid particular attention or cared, the landscape of expression has been bought and sold twice over. The careerists are in control now, and conformity and fun is the name of the game. The real artists left a long time ago. Maybe they are all out racing motorcycles; or doing the Ghost Dance.

Ronnie Landfield

©Ronnie Landfield 1995

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2. A Definition

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3. Lyrical Abstraction – In the Sixties