Can abstract art be about politics? In the early 1970s, that question was hotly debated as artists, critics and the public grappled with the relationship between art, politics, race and feminism. For some, the decision by women artists and artists of color to make abstract art represented a retreat from politics and protest.
Abstraction, Color, and Politics in the Early 1970s presents large-scale work by four American artists-Helen Frankenthaler, Sam Gilliam, Al Loving and Louise Nevelson-who chose abstraction as a means of expression within a particularly intense political climate. Curated by UMMA Director Christina Olsen, the year-long exhibition will be on view at the University of Michigan Museum of Art until Sept. 29, 2019.
"By shining a light on the heightened aesthetic decisions made by artists in the 1970s, this exhibition allows us to better understand how artists of all periods address and negotiate often turbulent political times through their aesthetic choices," Olsen said. The exhibition showcases major work by four vanguard artists of the era: Frankenthaler's Sunset Corner (1969), a monumental and meditative color-field painting; Loving's Bowery Morning (1971), a mixed-media homage to his adopted hometown; Nevelson's Dark Presence III (1971), an arresting all-black assemblage of carved wood in wood boxes; and Giliam's Situation VI-Pisces 4 (1972), an emblematic oversized work of draped fabric.
Public programming organized around the exhibition includes gallery talks and tours. The U-M Museum of Art, located at 525 S. State St. in Ann Arbor, is free and open to the public 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Lead support for "Abstraction, Color, and Politics in the Early 1970s" is provided by the U-M Office of the Provost, Michigan Medicine, the Richard and Rosann Noel Endowment Fund, the Herbert W. and Susan L. Johe Endowment, U-M Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. Additional support is provided by the Robert and Janet Miller Fund and the U-M Department of Political Science.