- Selections from the Collection of Edward R. Broida
- August 24 – November 12, 2006
- East Building, Upper Level, West Bridge
Franz Kline's use of a mechanical projector to enlarge a detail from one of his early figurative drawings led him to the type of painterly abstraction for which he later became famous: broad, slashing strokes of black across white. His abstract brushstrokes, as in Untitled of 1947, thus are a magnification—and likewise an intensified record—of the artist's gesture.
The abstract style of Philip Guston’s early works on paper is exemplified in the drawing Untitled of 1953, where the artist creates a spare, tension-filled structure out of vigorous lines and concentrated patches of black ink. In a 1956 review of Guston’s work, Leo Steinberg commented on the slower pace of his abstractions and their sense of having been “hauled up from unspeakable depths of privacy.”
At first, Willem de Kooning's Figure at Barnes Hole of 1962 appears to be purely abstract, but the central form is a female nude: with the blonde head is visible at the upper right, and the legs extend to the lower left. Although the majority of abstract expressionists purged their compositions of representation, this work demonstrates that figurative content could still coincide with the aims of postwar American abstraction.
Vija Celmins' lifelike sculptural reconstructions of real objects, such as Eraser, 1967, simulate ordinary artists' tools, notwithstanding their outsized scale and function. Blown-up versions of everyday items, these sculptures refer to surrealist René Magritte's pictorial enlargement and dislocation of objects from the contexts in which they are usually found.
In the 1960s Vija Celmins began to make paintings that replicated black-and-white photographs with meticulous accuracy. Many of these works underscore the relationship between the history of scientific exploration and technological innovations in modern art. Celmins' painting Rhinoceros of 1965, for instance, brings to mind the documentary use of photography in taxonomy.
Robert Morris' sculptural exploration of "primary forms," including boxes, fallen columns, and slabs, derived from his work as a prop and stage set designer for modern dance performances in New York City in the 1960s. Many of these performances explored themes of confinement, and works like Untitled of 1967/1986, a cagelike construction that sits on the floor, retain associations with detention and incarceration.
In Them and Us Neil Jenney suggests Cold War oppositions by depicting U.S. and Soviet fighter jets against the ostensibly limitless sky. With the American above the Soviet jet, he subtly identifies "them" and "us," but the dark smoke trailing the Soviet plane sets up an ambiguous narrative: are "they" simply polluting the air, or did "we" shoot "them" down? The title neatly printed on the frame hints at the moral and political implications and the disillusionment of the artist's generation.
Claes Oldenburg experimented with size and materials as a way to subvert notions of sculptural proportion and monumentality. His Standing Mitt with Ball of 1973 is an enormous adaptation of an ordinary catcher's mitt, made out of lead sheet metal and laminated wood. The artist commented, “I saw a broken-off hand of a Buddha figure which was almost the same size as the six-foot model. I think of the Mitt as...my form of figure sculpture.”
In works from the 1970s Guston bared his soul in a manner unique among his contemporaries. In this vigorously penned drawing from mid-decade, with its hardened strokes of black ink, Guston presents a clutter of heads buried to their eyes and ears in some sort of mire—exposed, rained upon, and defenseless against the elements.
In the 1960s Philip Guston gave up painterly abstraction and began to depict familiar objects and figures in strangely flattened and distorted settings. He developed a distinctive iconography that included such motifs as disembodied limbs, nail-studded shoes, and timepieces. Guston has hinted that the tangled mess of legs seen in works like Rug refers to "the masses."
Philip Guston's oil painting Ladder of 1978 depicts spindly legs twisted impossibly around the rungs of a ladder, while the top of a head is visible just behind the high wall. The head shown here recalls those in his drawing Rain of 1975, also illustrated in this exhibition feature and in other works included in the exhibition of the Broida gift.
In the late 1970s Susan Rothenberg introduced the abstracted human figure into her paintings. As seen in Head within Head, her vigorous brushwork belies the austerity and deliberateness of the composition: the shape of the eye echoes the outline of the larger head of which it forms a part, and the central line divides both heads in a similar way.
Wolfgang Laib is best known for his sculptures and installations made with pollen, wax, and rice, which evoke a timeless, nonspecific spirituality. The form of Rice House is universally recognizable as a type of shelter, and here it is rice that is protected within. The structure also recalls Muslim tombs found in southern India (where Laib has spent considerable time) as well as medieval reliquaries.
This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.
Overview: 37 modern and contemporary paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by 23 artists were selected for the exhibition from the 62 works that Edward R. Broida (1933–2006) donated to the National Gallery in 2005. Works by Vija Celmins, among them the large trompe-l'oeil sculpture Eraser, 1967, paintings and drawings by Philip Guston, and works by Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline were included in the selection.
Organization: The exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Jeffrey Weiss, curator of modern and contemporary art, was the exhibition curator.
Brochure: Selections from the Collection of Edward R. Broida, by Seth McCormick. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 2006