29 Sep Marlborough Gallery presents LEGENDS
SEPTEMBER 21 – NOVEMBER 12, 2021
We are so excited Marlborough Gallery will present LEGENDS, an exhibition encompassing a group of four artists who played a crucial role in defining the Abstract Expressionist movement of the twentieth century. Presenting the work of Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell, and Beverly Pepper, Marlborough is revisiting a legacy which began over sixty years ago during the initial expansion of the gallery to New York.
Modernism, at its core, began as a critical enterprise given to both defining and solving problems, based on the assumption that through the application of intellect, hard work, and diligence, the problems of the past could be swept away and replaced by objective, rational humanism. Postwar American Modernist art came with the full endorsement of the U.S. Government, a practice which celebrated the independence of the inventive individual and romanticized willful, often unorthodox creativity. Quickly, new modern works of art became signifiers of a community or company’s modern character, just as the artist became both icon and iconoclast, hero and anti-hero, a courageous creator forging the conditions and terms of the new world.
Into this mix of dynamic social, economic, and cultural conditions, a new generation of artists including Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell, and Beverly Pepper garnered the necessary support and resources to work at a physical scale that gave their painting and sculpture a unique architectural presence and authority that would in part define the direction of their work for over a half century.
Regarded as one of the most masterful colorists of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Sam Francis (1923-1994) developed a distinctly vibrant and gestural style of painting. Francis’s paintings are remarkable for the stark contrasts between luminous whites, dark blacks, and exuberant splashes of color on the canvas. A lifelong peripatetic, Francis developed a visual language which culled inspiration from a multitude of sources. Francis was drawn to influences ranging from the French Impressionists to Chinese and Japanese ink paintings to American contemporaries such as Jackson Pollock. Presented here will be two of his meticulously refined large-scale “Matrix” paintings from 1978, as well as a major 1959 work on paper, New York New York, which references his earliest cycle of works from his years in Paris.
Credited with bridging the first and second generations of Abstract Expressionists, Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) expanded the possibilities of line and color through both subtle and explicit references to landscape and figuration. Frankenthaler used turpentine-thinned paint directly on unprimed canvas laid across the floor as she floated around the edges, in similar manner to her Ab-Ex predecessors Jackson Pollock and Sam Francis. This technique gave way to the second wave of the movement, also known as Color Field painting, a term initially coined by the eminent art critic Clement Greenberg, which describes the introduction of large fields of flat, solid color spread across the picture plane, resulting in a smooth, austere composition.
Taking notable inspiration from the Surrealist movement, Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) was an American painter who led the first-generation Abstract Expressionists to pioneer the New York School and an entirely new type of abstraction. With a background in philosophy, Motherwell employed a theoretical approach to his works, engaging with themes of politics, philosophy, and literature. Motherwell is regarded as one of the most articulate of the Ab-Ex painters, and continued as an avid writer, poet, and theorist throughout his career. Deeply committed to educating audiences, Motherwell founded the Dedalus Foundation ten years before his death to nurture public understanding on principles of modernism.