Explore CollectionsModern and Contemporary ArtPostwar Abstraction

Postwar Abstraction

Morris Louis (American, 1912–1962), Para III, 1959, acrylic on canvas, gift of Marcella Louis Brenner, 2006.87.

By 1950, American artists had embraced abstraction as a means of expressing ideas, emotions, or spirituality through a myriad of innovative approaches. Contemporary abstraction speaks to the ever-shifting currents of artistic practice in which sampling, appropriation, and revival are often employed to invent new visual languages. Abstract artists such as Mark Rothko sought to express “basic human emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom” in their work, while David Smith sought to communicate “the return to origins—before purities were befouled by words” in his metal sculptures that emulate written language. The High includes fine examples of Abstract Expressionism by Rothko, Smith, Adolph Gottlieb, and Philip Guston, among others. As painting and sculpture moved away from Abstract Expressionism in the 1960s, the term “post-painterly abstraction” or “systemic abstraction” was used to describe hard-edged, geometric painting that challenged the highly subjective mode of painting and its expressive ambitions. The collection also includes works by Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Mangold, Frank Stella, and Dorothea Rockburne.

Michael Rooks

Michael Rooks

Wieland Family Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art