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Color into Light: Selections from the MFAH Collection Opens
Kenneth Noland, Tropical Zone, 1964, acrylic on canvas, Gift of the artist in honor of Peter C. Marzio, 2005.159, 2400x948.

HOUSTON, TX.- The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, presents Color into Light: Selections from the MFAH Collection. The ways in which artists use color as a liberating force, from the high modernist era of the 1940s and 1950s to today´s digital revolutions, is the focus of Color into Light: Selections from the MFAH Collection, opening December 13 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The show also offers alternative ways to tell the story of Modernism by embracing artists who have worked across the globe, from Paris, to New York, Buenos Aires, and São Paulo. This is the first of a series of exhibitions to be presented over the next few years that will draw on the strengths of the MFAH´s holdings. Color into Light will be on view in the Law Building, 1001 Bissonnet Street, through March 22, 2009.

About 90 works will be included in the exhibition, some new to the collection, such as Carlos Cruz-Diez´s Cromosaturación (1965) and James Turrell´s Acro (1968) installations, and some rarely seen, such as Fred Sandback´s Horizon Grey Cord and Rod 1/8 in. Dia. (1967). The show will be presented in sections, demonstrating how color and light become animating forces for successive generations of the international avant-garde.

"The museum has grown significantly in the last 25 years," states Peter C. Marzio, MFAH director. "We are now poised to re-examine various aspects of the collection through special exhibitions that focus on art historical trends and issues. Through this exhibition, viewers will quite literally see the evolution of color use in modern and contemporary works."

"Central to the concept of the exhibition are the independent but frequently parallel investigations undertaken by artists active in the United States, Latin America, and Europe," adds Alison de Lima Greene, MFAH curator of Contemporary Art and Special Projects. "Working with colleagues here on staff, we delved deep into the museum´s resources and sought out new acquisitions that would illuminate this vital current in the art of the twentieth century. We also sought to address how legacy this might ignite future developments."

The exhibition will open with a preamble offered by Henri Matisse´s View of Collieure, 1905. While modest in scale, this rarely seen treasure demonstrates how Matisse´s radical understanding of color ushered in a revolution in painting at the beginning of the 20th century. Loose brushstrokes and bold colors open up this brilliantly rendered study, and opposing cool and warm tones to emphasize shifting layers of the landscape vista.

The exhibition continues by contrasting the work of Hans Hofmann with that of Gyula Kosice. Hofmann came to the United States from his native Germany to become one of the great mentors of a generation of American painters who came of age in the 1950s. Gyula Kosice emigrated to Argentina from his native Czechoslovakia, and became the pivotal figure among the Madí art movement. Hofmann´s avocation of "push-pull" dynamics brought a new freedom to American painting, while Kosice´s brilliant experiments with light were among the radical contributions of the Latin American avant-garde at mid-century. Additionally this section addresses the theme of genesis, explored by Adolph Gottlieb and Clyfford Still, artists who found in color and abstraction a means into the sublime.

The second section of the exhibition opens with the work of Mark Rothko, introducing the generation of artists, who in the words of Clement Greenberg, pioneered a new "post-painterly abstraction ... [stressing] contrasts of pure hue rather than contrasts of dark and light." For Rothko, color acted as a luminous veil trapped in the space of the canvas. This segment of the exhibition will also look outside the New York School, introducing not only such West Coast artists as Sam Frances, but also Abraham Palatnik´s groundbreaking light boxes that create color atmospheres through moving lights and tinted scrims.

Color Field painting emerged quickly on the heels of Rothko´s innovations. The first Color Field artists—Morris Louis, Helen Frankenthaler, and Kenneth Noland—used acrylic paint on unprimed canvas to stress contrasts of pure hue rather than contrasts of dark and light, and such masterpieces as Noland´s Tropical Zone retain freshness and immediacy. Also included in this section will be important works by Jules Olitski, Larry Poons, and Dan Christensen.

Complementing this segment, Carlos Cruz-Diez´s Cromosaturación will be the first of several room-sized installations created for this exhibition. First seen in Houston in the MFAH´s celebrated Inverted Utopias exhibition, this unique light-saturated environment is at once lyrical and mysterious, as rose, green, and purple hues animate all surfaces of this "white-box" environment. Other currents in Latin American and European art are charted in the works Lucio Fontana, Luis Tomasello, and Hélio Oiticica. Their investigations into the physical properties of space and light offer a radical alternative to Color Field aesthetics, as their work literally slices through the picture plane, liberating color into space. The museum´s growing collection of important works in glass will be featured as well, including major examples by Alfredo Barbini, Stanislav Libensky, and Jaroslava Byrchtova.

Perception and illusion will be the themes explored in the next segment of the exhibition, starting with James Turrell´s Acro (1968). Using projected light to create the illusion of tangible form, Turrell´s work explores the phenomenology of vision itself. Also featured in this section will be Jo Baer´s Stations of the Spectrum (1964-1974), paintings which investigate how even minimal color can activate a white field, Mira Schendel, Variantes, 1977 and Marcius Galan´s Diagonal Section, an illusionistic room environment created specifically for Houston.

The final section of the exhibition explores how new media and the web introduce the element of time to these investigations. Bill Viola´s profoundly beautiful Ascension video installation will be on display, and concluding this exhibition are the web-based interactive We Feel Fine and I Want You to Want Me projects, created by Jonathan Harris and Sepandar Kamvar.

This exhibition is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and curated by Alison de Lima Greene, MFAH curator of Contemporary Art and Special Projects. Generous funding is provided by: Continental Airlines, The Brown Foundation, Inc., Jeff Fort and Marion Barthelme, Mr. Fayez Sarofim, and Ms. Bettie Cartwright and Mr. Colin Kennedy, and Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff.

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