The Spirit of Innovation: American Abstraction, 1960 to 1975

July 26, 2016 - October 30, 2016

Countless artists, artworks, and styles are associated with abstract art, the Western art movement that originated at the end of the twentieth century when some artists, particularly Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), began working more freely and using form, color, and line in entirely new ways to create innovative imagery that, although it did not resemble the people or things we see in real life, visually expressed a newfound human fascination with technology, science, and philosophy. Maverick artists that wished to experiment and distance themselves from tyranny, including Piet Mondrian, Jacques Lipchitz, and Max Ernst, fled Europe during the Nazi rise to power in the 1930s. New groups and movements were brought to America, while other movements like Abstract Expressionism were born from a convergence of philosophies and styles. New York City quickly became the new art and cultural mecca of the mid-twentieth century, and artists worldwide (and from other places in America) willingly gravitated towards its rich spirit of innovation.

After the first half of the nineteen hundreds, through a resurgence of consumerism and the figurative, a second wave of abstractionists naturally followed the first generation of artists. From 1960 to 1975, abstractionists began uniting into cohesive groups and communities of artists. They pushed boundaries with large-scale works, experimented with acrylic paint (a relatively new invention), ventured into the public art territory, explored geometry, adopted modernist philosophies, and embraced a wide variety of technical approaches. Abstract expressionism, color field painting, lyrical abstraction, post-painterly abstraction, sculpture, and minimal art became just a few of the different ways to further define the artists’ individual relationships with abstraction.

“The transcendental, the contemplative, and the timeless” is a regularly used phrase that attempts to define the overall theme of abstraction in the twentieth century. Abstract art indicates a slight, partial, or complete departure from realism. Like color, geometric shapes are universal elements and the underlying foundations of visible reality. However, this movement in art history is vast and quickly becomes difficult to explore without significantly narrowing its timeline.Before you is a diverse selection of abstract works from the Fort Wayne Museum of Art’s permanent collection that were created during a very short period of this movement’s lifespan–only fifteen years. It is a concise body of the artists’ exploration of abstraction in the 1960s and early 1970s. It has been called abstract art, nonfigurative art, nonobjective art, nonrepresentational art, and many other names, but it will always be a groundbreaking visual language.