Whitehot Magazine

Concept: Abstraction

Nancy Steinson Numina (1996)

By ANNA SCOLA April, 2019

Anita Shapolsky Gallery

99 Spring Street

We assume art is the meaning, the making and the made - Abstract Expressionism seems to perfectly unite the three.

In reading Abstract Expressionist work, the art world has long been in debate. Some would say that a work of this nature should not be ‘read’ at all as much as it should be simply observed and contemplated. Others—artists themselves included—could read the work of art and find associative imagery. This could be of a non-objective character or one of spiritual relation. 

Ernest Briggs Untitled (1958)

Concept: Abstraction presents to the viewer the possibility of both. An immediate encounter at the door with Untitled by Ernest Briggs from 1958 sets the stage of observation. One traces the aggressive strokes of earthy colors across the surface and paint drips down the aged canvas. Calligraphic strokes soak the cloth. Dry, dotted marks concentrate at the center, the show departs from this. 

The Abstract Expressionist movement was born out of New York City; it grew, particularly, out of the Soho tenements before they became the branded storefronts we know today. The American artists witnessed the abstraction of form from the European notions of Cubism and early Modernism and sought to push the deconstruction of formal elements. In challenging the conventions of representative art, the artists approached the canvas and the tools as an end in itself as opposed to the means. The key to Abstract Expressionism was in process over anything else. 

The artist’s process drew inspiration from the Surrealist’s explorations into the unconscious. Ongoing social context propelled this further—World War II deeply affected artist. The war cast a light on the underlying evils lurking in humanity. The pioneers sought art to provide them with an unfiltered release. In spontaneity, action, and movement, the artists liberated themselves from social conventions and emotional anxieties. 

Peter Bonner Sleezy Jack The Fire Drill (2018)

The exhibition proves that this desire for liberation prevails seventy years after the war. Peter Bonner’s obsessive layers of paint in Sleezy Jack The Fire Drill (2018) highlights this clearly - the encompassing scale blurs the viewer’s vision. They are confronted by the attacks of the paint stimulating in them a kind of catharsis it likely gave the artist in making the work. 

The Anita Shapolsky Gallery compliments those seeking release in action painting, with those searching for escape in color fields. Seymour Boardman’s Untitled of 1971, expands beyond the limits of its frame. The black painting is a vacuum only proven to be fixed by the fleeting white lines at its corner. A similar in Nancy Steinson’s Streak 2 (1990s) as a yellow vein traverses the steel form.

In the age of globalization and media, political accountability is demanded, transparency is sought after. A cognitive individual in today’s society is conscious of the corruption in human nature, especially with our increased awareness of social history. Artists making in this decade are as much—if not more—aware of the chaos and vice that surrounds us as the artists were in the 1950s.

Amaranth Ehrenhalt Four Seasons (2015)

The contemporary approach to abstract expressionism reveals itself in Amaranth Ehrenhalt’s Four Seasons (2015). It is an immense canvas granted a wall of its own for the viewer’s contemplation. In hypnotizing spirals, lines intersect the horizontal plane. In the cross-sections is a subtly trembling pool distorting a vibrant pebble wash floor. Still, in the exuberance of color, an ephemeral quietude envelops. While the exhibition outlines certain subtleties in the evolution of the style, namely the grounded colors and uncontrolled gestures to synthetic, more systematic patterns, the effect is no less meditative—in making and in made.

Full view of Concept: Abstraction at the Anita Shapolsky Gallery

The very essence of the style is that one work could never be duplicated in another. As such, it is not the artwork that is the art, but rather the process to arrive at the self-determining completion of the canvas. Concept: Abstraction catalogs a movement in art that has been suspended in time like no other. It remains as it did fifty years ago because it is necessary for humanity as much as is individual. 

Concept: Abstraction is on view at the Anita Shapolsky Gallery in SOHO through June 2nd, 2019. WM


Anna Scola

Anna Scola is an American and Russian artist, writer and curator based in Singapore and New York. As a practicing artist, Anna uses performance and installation to explore issues of identity and insecurity that arise from personal and socio-political relations to contemporary migration. As a curator, she has conceptualized and managed a number of exhibitions that create unique conditions for the artists and explore the potential of a gallery space.


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