Big things are happening at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center.
A new exhibition, XL: Large-Scale Paintings from the Permanent Collection, provides the Art Center a rare opportunity to showcase several large-scale paintings that are seldom on view. XL, an exhibition of 19 large works from Vassar’s holdings, is testament to the enduring visual power of mural-sized painting and the strength of the 20th century paintings collection at the Art Center. In addition, the exhibition, which covers a time span from 1948 to 2005, is an investigation of the ways in which artists have grappled with scale for the last half-century.
With half of the works in the exhibition made by female painters, the exhibition also highlights Vassar’s strength in women’s art. Artists whose work is featured in this diverse and powerful exhibition are Kevin Appel, Milton Avery, Ross Bleckner, Joan Brown, Roger Brown, Nancy Graves, Grace Hartigan, Joyce Kozloff, Alfred Leslie, Agnes Martin, Joan Mitchell, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Lawrence Poons, Mark Rothko, Hedda Sterne, Neil Welliver, and Christopher Winter. To be included in the show each piece was required to measure at least 5 feet high or wide. The works in the show range from 64 to 194 inches wide and 44 to 110 inches tall. [See the exhibition checklist.]
XL kicks off with a lecture by artist Joyce Kozloff on Friday, January 30, at 5:30 pm (details are at the end of this release). Kozloff is represented in the exhibition by a very early painting entitled Up Front, Appollonian. Measuring 6 x 10 feet, this painting is an excellent example of her interest in scale – a concern that has continued throughout her career of over four decades. The lecture will be followed by an exhibition opening reception in the Art Center Atrium. The show will be on view through March 29.
The ever-expanding measurements of paintings has long been a topic of interest for artists and critics alike. Shortly after the end of World War II in New York, scale became a fundamental means for artists, especially painters, to express themselves. The postwar era’s most influential painters, such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, were also progenitors of large canvases. In spring of 1947, at the height of the Abstract Expressionist era, the Museum of Modern Art mounted an exhibition called Large-Scale Modern Paintings. Margaret Miller, the curator of the 1947 show, said about scale that “Big pictures at their best are assertions of the artist’s self-confidence and aesthetic conviction, affirmations of his belief in the importance of painting itself.” Pollock, whose work was included in that exhibition, wrote in his application for a Guggenheim fellowship that same year, “I believe the easel picture is a dying form and the tendency of modern feeling is towards the wall picture or mural.” By the 1950s, that statement proved to be true. Large paintings became more common and their new size instigated a physical as well as visual experience of the painting.
“Modern painting is often said to aim constantly at the radical, and bigness was a way to be radical,” said Mary-Kay Lombino, the Emily Hargroves ’57 and Richard B. Fisher Curator and Assistant Director for Strategic Planning at the Lehman Loeb Art Center. “By going big, artists radically extended of the tenets of modernism. Their paintings, thanks to their monumental scale, had an emotional effect on their spectators.”
One of the largest paintings in the XL exhibition, as well as the Art Center’s collection, is Deuxième nuit d’été (1979), a 16-foot-long canvas covered with luscious mists of atmospheric color by Jules Olitski. While Olitski’s name may not be as well known as some of his contemporaries, he was celebrated by Greenberg as “the best painter alive,” and he enjoyed enormous critical praise and acclaim in the 1960s and 1970s. “This painting combines qualities of luminosity and density as well as subtle chromatic shifts and is characteristic of his work from the late 1970s, a period during which the artist took advantage of the newly improved polymer and gel acrylic mediums,” Lombino explained.
Joan Mitchell, one of most significant female painters of the New York School, is represented in the show by Lyric (1953), an important painting donated to the collection by William Rubin, the influential art historian and curator of MoMA’s prestigious department of painting and sculpture in the 1970s and 1980s. The painting features a burst of bold color, energetic line, and angular form yet the overall feel of the composition possesses a gracefulness that reflects the title. Like many other painters of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Mitchell worked on a grand scale from the early 1950s throughout her career of nearly fifty years.
The exhibition features more recent work as well. Alfred Leslie, who changed course from abstract to figurative painting in the early 1960s, is best known for his large-scale hyper-real portraits such as Self Portrait (1982), which is featured in the exhibition. Here the viewer is confronted by a towering figure dressed in a tuxedo, arms crossed over his torso with a stern expression on his face. Some of the Art Center’s recent acquisitions will also be on view. Joan Brown, a key player in both West Coast Abstract Expressionism and Bay Area Figuration, employs rich symbolism, open-ended narrative, and vibrant color in her Getting Ready for the Bath, an important touchstone in the exhibition. Other figurative paintings in the exhibition by artists Hedda Sterne and Neil Welliver also present the figure larger than life but they’re painted in a more naturalistic, painterly style. Sterne is represented by a pair of pendant paintings depicting Barnett Newman in one and his wife Annalee Newman in the other. The portrait of Barnett came into the collection in 1995, while the portrait of Annalee was acquired very recently as a bequest from Priscilla Morgan. This is the first time the paintings will be shown side-by-side at the Art Center.
“This exhibition is a unique opportunity to see works that are rarely shown because of their space requirements,” said Lombino. “These larger-than-life canvases invite an extraordinary visual experience in which the viewer is immersed in the field of the painting.”
Exhibition Special Events
Opening Lecture and Reception
Friday, January 30, 2015
Lecture, “Maps and Patterns,” by artist Joyce Kozloff
5:30pm, Taylor Hall, Room 102
Reception, 6:30pm, Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
Joyce Kozloff (American, b. 1942) became an originating figure of the Pattern and Decoration movement, exploring applied and decorative arts, especially visual cultures of the nonwestern world, as source and inspiration. Beginning in the 1980s, Kozloff concentrated on ambitious public commissions in the US and abroad, many in transportation centers, executed in ceramic tile and/or glass and marble mosaic.
By the 1990s, maps had become the foundation for Kozloff’s work, structures into which she would insert a range of issues, particularly the role of cartography in human knowledge and as an imposition of imperial will.
Kozloff received a BFA from Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh in 1964 and an MFA from Columbia University, New York in 1967. She has had many solo and group exhibitions over the last 44 years including early solo shows at Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia and the ground-breaking exhibition WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution at Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, which traveled to the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC; P.S.1 MoMA in Long Island City, NY; and Vancouver Art Gallery in British Columbia, Canada, as well as the 1979 Whitney Biennial Exhibition. Her work resides in numerous public collections throughout North America including the Brooklyn Museum of Art; The de Young Museum in San Francisco; The Museum of Modern Art; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC; and The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
Gallery Conversation: Scale from the Artist's and Curator's Viewpoint
Thursday, February 5
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
Associate professor of art Laura Newman and curator Mary-Kay Lombino bring their perspectives on matters of scale to this informal discussion in the galleries.
Curator's Gallery Talk: XL: Large-Scale Paintings from the Permanent Collection
Thursday, February 12
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center Temporary Exhibition Galleries
Curator Mary-Kay Lombino explores the XL exhibition on a walk through the galleries, providing insight into the exhibition as a whole and into how the works on view fit into the historical context of large-scale painting.
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 19,000 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.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.