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Revelation: Major Paintings by Jules Olitski on View at KC's Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
Jules Olitski, With Love and Disregard: Rapture, 2002; acrylic on canvas, 68 x 92 inches; Private Collection; Image: ©Jules Olitski Estate/Licensed by VAGA, New York; photo: Michael Cullen

KANSAS CITY, MO.- The exhibition Revelation: Major Paintings by Jules Olitski draws together more than thirty significant paintings from public and private collections and highlights important periods and themes from Olitski’s career. This is the first overview of the artist’s paintings since his death in 2007. On view May 20–August 28, 2011 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, the exhibition then travels in 2012 to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio; and the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, Washington, D.C. The exhibition was organized by the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and curated by art historians E. A. Carmean Jr., Alison de Lima Greene, and Karen Wilkin.

Jules Olitski (1922–2007) first received international acclaim as a Color Field painter and continued to experiment with techniques and processes throughout his career. Together, the exhibition’s works span five decades of Olitski’s creative output. The exhibition’s curators have organized the exhibition in groupings of Stain paintings, Spray paintings, Baroque paintings, High Baroque paintings, and the artist’s Late paintings.

Olitski’s signature Color Field paintings, including the Kemper Museum’s Prince Patutszky Pleasures (1962), were created in the late 1950s and 1960s and feature bold colors and flat graphic shapes. This was a pivotal time for Olitski. He had his first solo exhibition in New York in 1958, and his works attracted the attention of influential art critic Clement Greenberg, who championed the artist’s work for decades. In 1963, he began teaching at Bennington College in Vermont where he became close friends with fellow Color Field painter Kenneth Noland as well as artists David Smith, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, and Anthony Caro. The artists often exchanged ideas and visited each other’s studios and exhibitions.

Later in the 1960s, Olitski wanted to create a sense of weightless and suspended color. He began using a spray gun to apply paint to his canvases and created his large-scale Spray paintings. In 1966, Olitski represented the United States in the 33rd Venice Biennale along with artists Frankenthaler, Roy Lichtenstein, and Ellsworth Kelly. Remaining faithful to abstraction throughout his career, Olitski explored textures with iridescent colors in the 1970s and 1980s and at times used mops, brooms, and mitts to apply paint. In the last decade of his life, “the artist expressed an almost unbridled sense of freedom and drama, at once timeless, lurid, and perhaps even audacious,” notes Kemper Museum Director Rachael Blackburn Cozad in the exhibition’s catalogue.

Jules Olitski was born in 1922 in the Ukraine as Jevel Demikovsky. It was after he and his family immigrated to the United States in 1926 and his mother remarried that he changed his name to Jules Olitsky, which later evolved into Jules Olitski. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and then studied art in Paris on the GI Bill between 1949 and 1951 at the Ossip Zadkine School and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Olitski later earned a B.A. and an M.A. in art education from New York University. After teaching for many years first at C. W. Post College on Long Island, NY, and then at Bennington College, Olitski devoted himself fully to painting, printmaking, and sculpture at his studio in Vermont and later in Bear Island, New Hampshire, and Islamorada, Florida.

In 1967, he was awarded the Corcoran Gold Medal and William A. Clark Award at the 30th Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary Painters at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The Corcoran then organized a major exhibition of his works that also traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Art, and in 1973, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston organized a retrospective that traveled to the Albright-Knox Gallery of Art in Buffalo, NY, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, NY. Since then, his works have been included in hundreds of exhibitions and may be found in collections around the world from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to Florence’s Uffizi Portrait Gallery.

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