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Columbia Museum of Art Presents Major Retrospective Exhibition of Painter Cleve Gray
Cleve Gray, Diana and Actaeon, 1989. Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 70 in.

COLUMBIA, SC.- Cleve Gray: Man and Nature, a 30-year retrospective of noted American painter Cleve Gray, will be on view at the Columbia Museum of Art from June 26 through September 27, 2009. The exhibition illustrates the full progression of Gray’s practice as he developed his signature gestural style between 1970 and 2004, the year he died. Man and Nature is the first comprehensive touring exhibition of Gray’s work and is the only museum exhibition to date to focus on his mature abstraction. The 47 paintings in the show follow the development of the artist’s color-based abstractions, forged out of introspection, his responses to his extensive travels, and his deep understanding of European and American modernism and Asian sources.

Cleve Gray (1918-2004) was an independent-minded artist whose work paralleled and reflected Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting but did not entirely embrace them. He had a lifelong interest in Asian art, and his interest began avidly when he was at Princeton University where he graduated summa cum laude. Gray developed considerable expertise in Chinese and Japanese art, and he wrote his Princeton thesis on Chinese landscape painting. During the last 30 years of his life, travel to the Middle East and trips to Southeast Asia continued to influence his series of paintings. The reconciliation of opposites also intrigued him, and during the 1980s and ‘90s, he went through phases of simplification and reduction, saying, “I’ve always been attracted to the Chinese sense of yin yang – opposites converging to make a harmony. Male, female, black, white: all coming together.”

Karen Brosius, executive director of the Columbia Museum of Art says, “We are honored to present Gray’s retrospective, and by doing so, we continue to strengthen our commitment to showing, collecting and educating the community about Modern and Contemporary art.

Gray produced many of his most powerful and personal works during the last three decades of his life, and the majority of those works are abstract. “They range from lucid arrangements of elegant shapes to explosive calligraphic improvisations, from single brushstrokes racing across expanses of clear colors to snarls of oil stick that create halos of unnamable hues,” writes guest curator Karen Wilkin. “Lush but disciplined, large, confrontational, and pared down to essentials, these radiant paintings capture our attention quickly with their clear-headedness, their larger-than-life gestures, and their full-throttle palette.”

Wilkin is an independent curator and critic specializing in 20th century modernism. In her catalogue essay, she points out that from the 1970s on, “touch, surface, edge and placement count as much as color as carriers of emotion and meaning in Gray’s paintings. The resulting configurations are always richly associative… In his strongest paintings of his last three decades, man and nature struggle for dominance.” She adds, “Gray treads the boundaries between painting conceived as evidence of the artist’s will and as evidence of his unwilled responses to the natural world, between painting as a product of ‘culture’ and as an equivalent for forces beyond our control.”

Gray’s work is in the collections of approximately 50 public institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Art Gallery, the Norton Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Columbia Museum of Art, and the Neuberger Museum of Art, among others.

Gray was married to the distinguished writer Francine du Plessix Gray for 47 years and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1998.

The exhibition was organized by the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York.

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February 11, 2009

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