Abstraction Américaine at Fondation Fernet-Branca

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American Abstraction, Foundation Fernet Branca, Jack TworkovSaint-Louis, France—Abstraction Américaine opened at the Fondation Fernet-Branca on June 2. Organized by guest curator by Otto Hübner with the assistance of his wife, Kirstin Hübner, and Francesca Pollock, the exhibition brings together signature works of seven 20th-Century American artists, major masters of abstraction, some relatively unknown to the general public in Europe: Hans Hofmann (1880‐1966), Jack Tworkov (1900‐1982), Charles Pollock (1902‐1988), Adolph Gottlieb (1903‐1974), David Smith (1906‐1965), Richard Pousette‐Dart (1916‐1992) and Sam Francis (1923‐1994). The exhibition continues through September 22. A symposium, organized by Otto Hübner was held on June 12 and featured representatives from each artist’s estate. Dr. Philip Rylands, Director of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Venice, moderated the symposium.

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“It as been our passion and profession, my wife and I, to create an exhibition of American Abstraction in Europe since 1986,” Otto Hübner writes in the foreword for the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, “For years I have wanted to crate a museum exhibition with the works by Sam Francis, Adolph Gottlieb, Hans Hofmann, Charles Pollock , Richard Pousette-Dart, David Smith and Jack Tworkov. My intention was not only to exhibit their fascinating art, but also to show the human side of these artists. This exhibition will be a great opportunity for visitors to see, in addition to their art, some elements of the personal lives of the artists.”

These seven artists presented together for the first time have in common not only the abstraction; their paths and their work reflect permanent artistic and personal encounters. Whether they were labeled – or not – Abstract Expressionists or Color Field painters is not very important because their respective works bear witness to the verve of those major trends and the lively artistic ambiance in which their participate. Each artist has been given a gallery dedicated to their work that included a survey of their painting and drawings as well as intimate biographical information including photographs and letters.

Up to now, most of the exhibitions consacrated to these artists have ended with the formation of an avant-garde in the middle of the bustling twentieh century. To broaden the perception of their artistic identities, the exhibition has relinquished a narrow historiographical framework and seeks to show the relevance of their singular actions and the eloquence of another aspect of American abstraction. Bringing together a group of exceptional works from the artists’foundations and collectors, this exhibition is an opportunity to show important artists, some of whom are presented for the first time in France – even though their work may have been, for many years, in prestigious collections and museums: the Museum of Mordern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.

The exhibition opted for a chronological presentation of seven consecutive rooms, each devoted to one artist, and often combining contextualized works with photographs, writings and unpublished documentation. Through over one hundred works, American Abstraction offers real discoveries, intimate and personal encounters with the artists, and a way to approach American abstraction from another point of view.

Finally, to open the door to what followed, and to pay tribute to one of artists who paved the way for American Pop Art, the exhibition will close with an emblematic work by Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008): his Art Car designed in 1986 for BMW. Rauschenberg was the first to use other artists’work which he processed by means of photographic techniques and projected onto the car. His own photographs of tress and swamp grass point to the environmental problems associated with the motorcar. The hub caps are formed using photographs of antique plates. The associations between the narrative elements ate grouped along the surfaces, composing a virtual story for the observer to behold. About this car Rauschenberg said, "I think mobile museums would be a great idea. This car is the fulfilment of my dream."

This exhibition would not have been possible without the collaboration of foundations and families of the artists represented: The Renate, Hans & Maria Hoffman Trust, The Estate of Jack Tworkov, The Charles Pollock Archives, The Adolph & Esther Gottlieb Foundation, The Estate of David Smith, The Estate of David Pousette-Dart, The Sam Francis Foundation, Margaret & Augustus Francis. Thanks also to BMW, to the many collectors who were kind enough to lend their work and to the american contemporary art GALLERY in Munich (Germany).

An excerpt from the exhibition’s introductory panel:

Pivotal events early in the twentieth century brought the United States into contact with the Modernist art emerging from Europe. One of the most significant examples of the cultural exchange between American art and European Modernism as the International Exhibition of Modern Art, also known as The Amory Show, which took place in New York in 1913.

From 1929 through the 1930s, during the Great depression, some American avant-gardists began their first experiments in abstraction. Their art was characterized by geometrical content and clearly defined forms, worked out in flat, clear colors. In general, they were influenced by Pablo Picasso’s Synthetic Cubism and Mondrian’s Neo-plasticism.

Many of the first generation of Absract Expressionists such as William Baziotes, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Adolph Gottlieb, Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, David Smith, and Jack Tworkov were employed in the government-funded Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Depression in the mid-1930s. Gottlieb, Charles Pollock, Barnett Newman, Smith, and Tworkov were among the artists who had previously studies at the Art Students League in New York.

During World War II New York became a meeting point for various cultures. This led to an intensive, experiential exchange of art theories between American artists, European abstractionists and Surrealists. Even though the Abstract Expressionists were influenced by European cultures of various centuries, as well as by the fundamentals of American Indian and African tribal art, their goal was to establish and autonomous and original art, one that was liberated from pervious traditions. By the mid 1940s different galleries began to exhibit the work of this New York avant-garde.

Prior to this, Peggy Guggenheim has been the preeminent patron of Abstract Expressionism through her gallery Art of This Century, which was partly a museum for her collection of European art and partly a commercial gallery where, between 1942 and 1947, Guggenheim exhibited contemporary artists (including Hofmann, Jackson Pollock, Richard Pousette-Dart, Rothko, and Clyfford Still) and gave them refuge during the years when the struggle for acceptance was at its greatest.

In the 1940s and 1950s the main groups within the Abstract expressionism were the “Gesture Painters” and the “Color-Field Painters”, who experimented with new techniques for applying paint: dripping, pouring, throwing, squirting, squeegeeing, and spattering, and with the use of unconventional tools, such as wall paper brushes, sticks, and trowels.

[…]The 1950s were a decade of spiritual inspiration […] [artists] were free to experiment, and their works of art became milestones in the development of American art and it’s various means of expression.

[…] The Abstract Expressionists whose works are on display in this exhibition remain true to abstraction throughout their careers and were little influenced by innovations in the art scene around them. American abstraction was a milestone in the art of the United States, a path to liberation and the impulse for free art forms, however different, that evolved in the future.

__________ Abstraction Américaine at Fondation Fernet-Branca continues through September 22. A fully illustrated catalogue featuring an essay by Kirstin Hübner titled Paths of American Abstraction: The Pioneer Spirit of the Twentieth-Century American Avant-Garde, accompanies the exhibition.