Mnuchin Gallery proudly presents ABSTRACTION, an exhibition that delves into the dynamic ways post-war and contemporary artists have defined, challenged, and expanded, our comprehension of abstract art. On view from February 6 to March 16, 2024, the exhibition showcases an esteemed lineup, including John Chamberlain, Beauford Delaney, Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Elizabeth Murray, Gerhard Richter, Susan Rothenberg, Kazuo Shiraga, Sylvia Snowden, Frank Stella and others.
Abstraction is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, with practices varying widely among its contributors working in two dimensions, as well as three. While commonly understood as the absence of clear representation or figuration, abstraction naturally evades a singular or straightforward definition. This inherent ambiguity prompts profound questions about the nature of abstraction itself— how can it simultaneously embody deskilling and sophisticated dexterity, and possess universal qualities while remaining entirely subjective?
Indeed, those working in the tradition of abstraction have often investigated its contradictory elements. De Kooning’s canvases curiously fuse the gestural and the conceptual in an irresolvable manner. Using a signature palette of fleshy pinks, cobalt blue, burnt orange, Untitled XXI (1977) synthesizes a broad spectrum of visual stimuli–merging the human figure and landscape into a singular pictorial image. This playful tug-of-war between color and form, the cerebral and sensorial, can be felt at the heart of many Abstract Expressionist compositions. Lee Krasner’s Twelve Hour Crossing, March Twenty-first (1971-1981), conjures the perfect combination of lyrical paint swooshes and collaged paper to hint at a titular date and time that remain tantalizingly out of reach. Similarly, at nine feet high, John Chamberlain’s Elastic Jesus soars with a solid verticality that warps into a vibrant feast of undulating metal in which to lose oneself.
Beyond the New York School, many artists have demonstrated that abstraction paradoxically requires a degree of tangible presence to attain its full potential. For example, Gerhard Richter's trademark squeegee-application and scraping of paint layers gives way to an arrestingly surreal surface, dually marked by pristine clarity and infinite distortion in Abstraktes Bild (1994). Rooted in the experimental ethos of Gutai, the luscious viscosity of Kazuo Shiraga’s “foot painting” in Shio [Tide], strikes a balance between physical intensity and meditative beauty. Sylvia Snowden uses thick, textual impasto to camouflage the figure in motion in Shell age 13 (2012); where, by contrast, Susan Rothenberg’s Boodis and Kiggy uses staccato brushwork to deconstruct the animal form (2005-2006). Frank Stella and Elizabeth Murray take entirely different approaches in, Maha-lat, 5.5x (1978-79) and Water Girl (1982), each respectively transforming the two-dimensional into three by bringing sculptural depth to the abstract form.
While representing a symphonic range of possibilities rather than a monolithic construct, these artists verify that abstraction is not devoid of recognizable or tangible elements, but rather necessitates a nuanced interplay between the imagined and the perceptible.
The artists in ABSTRACTION partake in an ongoing history, where the gestural mark expands from a manifestation of post-war complexities to a more open-ended, exploratory space.