“What is abstract art good for?” “What's the use — for us as individuals, or for any society — of pictures of nothing, of paintings and sculptures or prints or drawings that do not seem to show anything except themselves?” These were among the central questions explored by the late Kirk Varnedoe, a longtime Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, during his now famous 2003 series of A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts held at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Varnedoe’s notes from his six Mellon lectures were edited for his posthumous 2006 book Pictures of Nothing, and the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center has chosen the same title for its new exhibition of key abstract works from the Vassar museum’s collection.
“Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art from the Permanent Collection” will be on exhibit Friday, July 12, through Sunday, September 8, in the temporary galleries of the Art Center. In conjunction, curator Mary-Kay Lombino will lead an informal gallery talk and walk-through of the exhibition on Thursday, July 18, at 4:00pm. And on the exhibition’s final weekend painter Thomas Nozkowski will deliver the lecture “Pictures of Something”, on Friday, September 6, at 5:30pm, in Taylor Hall room 203. “Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art from the Permanent Collection” is supported by the Evelyn Metzger Exhibition Fund.
With “Pictures of Nothing” the Art Center will trace the evolution and development of abstract art from nine decades of the twentieth century, through close to fifty artworks in such media as painting, sculpture, photography, and prints. The exhibition divides the art into three sections — focusing on gesture, geometry, and pattern — in order to highlight the different formal characteristics among these groups of works. Examples (respectively by sections of the exhibition) include artworks by Helen Frankenthaler, Nancy Graves, Grace Hartigan, Brice Marden, and Robert Motherwell (gesture); Peter Halley, Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella, Anne Truitt, and Josef Albers (geometry); and Jasper Johns, Yayoi Kusama, Mark Tobey, and Terry Winters (pattern).
The exhibition’s approach is to showcase varieties of artistic abstraction that emerged over the last century, and to highlight the distinctions among them — from surrealism, abstract expressionism, and geometric abstraction, to color-field and hard-edge painting and minimalism. Surrealist works, for example, show an interest in such technical devices as “automatism” and in psychological theories about the role of the unconscious and archetypal inner sources; the gestural style of action painters reveals their attempts to transfer pure emotion and internal creative energies into their art to convey the direct immediacy of the moment of creation; hard-edge paintings display an economy of form, fullness of color, and smooth surface planes; and minimalist works use spare abstraction to expose the essence of form.
Much of the art to be shown in “Pictures of Nothing” was created in the middle of the twentieth century, during the glory days of abstract painting in New York, but the exhibition will wholly span works from the 1930s to the 2010s. Among them, two have a very special relationship. Robert Delaunay’s 1937 painting Rhythme inspired Complete Coverage on Delaunay, a sculpture created by Uruguayan-born Marco Maggi for his one-person exhibition held in 2011 at the Art Center (http://fllac.vassar.edu/exhibitions/2011-2012/marco-maggi.html). With seventy-four years between these two colorful works, they act as fascinating bookends for abstract art in Vassar’s permanent collection.
“While abstract art comes in many forms, it often shares a use of a particular visual language of form, color, and line to create imagery that is independent from visual references in the world,” said Mary-Kay Lombino, the Emily Hargroves Fisher 1957 and Richard B. Fisher Curator at the Art Center. And she noted that in the first of his six Mellon lectures Varnedoe remarked, “Abstraction is a remarkable system of productive reductions and destructions that expands our potential for expression and communication.”
Exhibition Special Events
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Curator Mary-Kay Lombino leads an informal walk-through of the exhibition “Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art from the Permanent Collection.”
Lecture and Reception
Friday, September 6, 2013
“Pictures of Something”
Taylor Hall, room 203
Artist Thomas Nozkowski is known for his richly colored and intimately scaled abstract paintings, and he has had over seventy one-person shows of his work since 1979. His most recent solo exhibitions have both been in 2013 — at The Pace Gallery (New York) and the Russell Bowman Gallery (Chicago) — and the National Gallery of Canada mounted a career retrospective of his work in 2009. Other recent solo exhibitions include those at Stephen Friedman Gallery, London (2009), The Douglas Hyde Gallery of Trinity College, Dublin (2008), The Venice Biennale, and The Ludwig Museum, Koblenz, Germany (both 2007). His works are in many permanent collections, including those of the Addison Gallery of American Art, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, The High Museum of Art, The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of Art and the Yale University Art Gallery. Nozkowski received the Medal of Merit from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2006, and he is a Guggenheim fellow, among several honors.
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
About the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center was founded in 1864 as the Vassar College Art Gallery. The current 36,400-square-foot facility, designed by Cesar Pelli and named in honor of the new building's primary donor, opened in 1993. Vassar was the first U.S. college founded with a permanent art collection and gallery, and at any given time, the Permanent Collection Galleries of the Art Center feature approximately 350 works from Vassar's extensive collections. The Art Center's collections chart the history of art from antiquity to the present and comprise over 18,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and glass and ceramic wares. Notable holdings include the Warburg Collection of Old Master prints, an important group of Hudson River School paintings given by Matthew Vassar at the college's inception, and a wide range of works by major European and American 20th-century painters.
Admission to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free and all galleries are wheelchair accessible. The Art Center is open to the public Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, 10:00am–5:00pm; Thursday, 10:00am–9:00pm; and Sunday, 1:00–5:00pm. Located at the entrance to the historic Vassar College campus, the Art Center can be reached within minutes from other Mid-Hudson cultural attractions, such as Dia:Beacon, the Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt national historic sites and homes, and the Vanderbilt mansion. For additional information, the public may call (845) 437-5632 or visit fllac.vassar.edu.
Directions to the Vassar campus, located at 124 Raymond Avenue in Poughkeepsie (NY), are available at www.vassar.edu/directions.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.