Art has the unique ability to convey interpretations of reality. This can be done in realistic manners, or an artist can distort an image and challenge what a viewer may see. This week marks the last full week that the Weatherspoon Art Museum will be displaying their exhibit on Abstract Expressionism, where ideas of ‘form’ are played with through art.
At the center of this exhibit lies Willem de Kooning’s “Woman.” This work is part of de Kooning’s most notable series of paintings, which depict abstracted female figures.
This piece itself exhibits a feminine-like figure at the in the center of the painting. The figure itself has a visible human form, but features such as the breasts of the figure are presented in bright pigments and are accented in shape.
Compositionally, de Kooning chose to use heavy brushstrokes, which make the painting seem both avant-garde and somewhat violent. This work also combines two elements that de Kooning was experimenting with at this period: the pairing of certain sections of the figure with paint that matches the background. By doing this, he joins the figure into the background and blurs conventional ideas of separation. De Kooning referred to this practice as “no-environment.”
The others aspect that is explored is the figure itself. De Kooning chose these sexualized and distorted female figures as a response to the romanticized ideal woman that was conveyed in more traditional art. What is more important is that while de Kooning does experiment with the perception of the female figure, he never fully abandons it as template, which is very prevalent throughout his “Woman” series of work.
The period of art that Willem de Kooning is most associated with is Abstract Expressionism, or AbEx. This movement was spearheaded by not only de Kooning, but also his wife, and more notably artist Jackson Pollock.
The movement draws its name from the use of abstract creation that was popular in the period. Artists chose to create forms that didn’t occur in the observed world. This period saw many artists disregard notions of form and began to explore ideas that took place in an unstructured setting.
Whereas de Kooning draws much influence from the early AbExers Hans Hoffman and Arshile Gorky, who are also on display in the exhibit, this period also showed works that heavily differed from the blurry and abstracted style.
This is evident in the work of Ilya Bolotowsky, whose piece “Small Diamond” seems almost out of place when compared to de Kooning’s “Woman.”
“Small Diamond” features the use of a clearly separated colors, easily discernable shapes, and consistent use of brushwork. But similar to “Woman”, it also toys with the perception of background by not really alluding to what is and isn’t a fixture.
Another style of painting that is prominent in this period is similar shows a synthesis between de Kooning and Bolotowsky. Interestingly enough it comes from Willem’s wife, Elaine. Her untitled work features the heavy and textured brushwork that is found in “Women”, but also uses a separated color palette that can be seen in “Small Diamond.” “Small Diamond” uses a softer borders than the other two works, and stylistically feels more like a medium between two extremes.
These pieces also serve as a reminder of how important the Weatherspoon is to the rest of campus. The works displayed in this exhibit are part of a collection that Weatherspoon has accumulated since it’s in inception in 1941. Focusing primarily on art from the 20th century and ranging to the modern day, the Weatherspoon has been fortunate enough to acquire pieces from such artists such as Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse and Willie Cole. Partly due to this variety, the Weatherspoon has maintained quite the touring presence with the Falk Visiting Artist program.
Each semester an artist deemed of merit is selected to exhibit in the Weatherspoon. While being showcased, the artist will also typically provide a lecture, and even maintain a several day residence to work with students in the MFA program.
The Weatherspoon also features such notable collections as the Lenoir C. Wright Collection of Japanese Prints, which over 500 prints in total, and the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States. Outside the doors of the Weatherspoon is also a sculpture garden, which has maintained a rich collection of modern art.
The Abstract Expressionism exhibit runs until the June 11th and promises to capture the interests of the amateur art enthusiast, and the aficionado alike.