Hard Edge, Cool Logic: Geometric Abstraction in the 20th Century

November 02, 2013 - January 26, 2014

Geometric Abstraction is a particular form of abstract art based on the use of geometric forms organized in non-illusionistic space and combined into non-representational compositions.  Practically speaking, this means that the artist has created geometric shapes of varying colors which float quite flatly on the surface of whatever canvas or paper they are placed upon and these shapes are not meant to be anything other than what they appear to be.  The edges of each shape are crisp and unwavering and logic that has led to the creation of each shape is cool and calculated.

Artists pursued Geometric Abstraction and a closely related movement, Minimalism, in a quest to free art from its long history of illusionistic practice which emphasized techniques that tricked the viewer’s eye into “seeing” depth of field in a work of art that was painted on a flat surface. The artists drawn to Geometric Abstraction desired to be more truthful and literal: these flat lines and shapes are simply lines and shapes. Nothing more. Nothing less. Any pleasure or passion that is stirred by these art works is stemming from our response to the lines, shapes, and color interactions that are present in any particular piece.

The roots of this approach go back to Greek mythology; specifically to the sons of Zeus: Apollo and Dionysus. Apollo, the god of the Sun, of dreams and of reason, championed human creativity through reason and logical thinking. In contrast, Dionysus, the god of wine, ecstasy and intoxication championed all things steeped in chaos which appealed to the emotions and instincts.

For generations, artists have demonstrated both Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies. With that in mind, it’s no surprise, then, that when abstract art appeared in the early 20th century, its practitioners quickly divided into two distinct camps: the Dionysian-influenced gestural abstractionists, who favored wild, loose compositions emphasizing the artist’s hand, and the Apollonian-influenced geometric abstractionists, who preferred the “it-is-what-it-is” essentialism of geometric shapes.


This exhibition features the work of many, but by no means all, the artists who devoted their careers to the study of the geometric tradition and then transformed it into their own artistic vocabulary.

Artists featured in this exhibition are part of the Vincent Melzac collection, a selection of artworks on long-term loan to the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. They include: Gene Davis, Thomas Downing, Agnes Denes, Josef Albers, and Donald Judd.

About the Melzac Collection

Vincent Melzac (1914-1989) was an avid art collector who developed a notable collection of American art of the 1950s and 1960s. Melzac was known for his support of emerging artists, frequently acquiring the entire studio production of an artist. He lived in Fort Wayne during the 1940s while employed at the local department store, Wolf and Dessauer, as the Director of Merchandise and Planning Control. A strong supporter of the arts in Fort Wayne, Melzac wrote a weekly column in the Sunday Journal Gazette and was actively involved with the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. He was later appointed the Chief Executive Officer for The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. in 1971.

Having moved to Washington, D.C. in the early 1950s, Melzac became dedicated to the promotion of a group of artists known as the Washington Color School. This group of artists, represented in this selection of works from his private collection and the Fort Wayne Museum of Art’s permanent collection, gained widespread acclaim during the 1950s and 1960s and is characterized by their attention to the relationships of color patterns.

In 1977, Melzac’s ties to Fort Wayne were reestablished when the museum commissioned him to conduct the planning study that ultimately led to the construction of this facility. Other works from the Vincent Melzac Collection may be found today in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and The Phillips Collection, both in Washington, D.C.