Midcentury Abstraction: A Closer Look highlights the breadth and variety of practices in abstract art that took place around the middle of the 20th century. The exhibition is inspired by a recent gift to the Yale University Art Gallery from the Friday Foundation honoring the legacy of the late collectors Jane Lang Davis and Richard E. Lang. This important gift includes revelatory works on canvas and paper by the celebrated painters Franz Kline (1910–1962) and Mark Rothko (1903–1970) that show how these artists engaged with both abstraction and representation over the course of their careers. Eschewing the notion that there was a linear shift toward abstraction at midcentury, the exhibition showcases a group of artists who freely moved in and out of abstraction or blended their radical approaches with traditional subject matter, such as landscape, portraiture, or still life. In addition to Kline and Rothko—best known as Abstract Expressionists—the exhibition includes objects in a variety of media by Lee Bontecou (b. 1931), Dorothy Dehner (1901–1994), Willem de Kooning (1904–1997), George Miyasaki (1935–2013), and more. Collectively, these works present midcentury abstraction as a dynamic process of exploration pursued by artists who were unafraid to break the boundaries of genre, medium, or style.
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Exhibition made possible by the Joann and Gifford Phillips, Class of 1942, Fund. Organized by Elisabeth Hodermarsky, the Sutphin Family Curator of Prints and Drawings, and Keely Orgeman, the Seymour H. Knox, Jr., Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, with Gregor Quack, Ph.D. candidate, Department of the History of Art.