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Masterworks by Pollock, Rothko, and Johns inaugurate Clark Art Institute's galleries
Helen Frankenthaler (American, 1928–2011), Wales, 1966. Acrylic on canvas, 113 3/16 x 45 1/16 in. (287.5 x 114.4 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Anonymous Gift, 1981.86.1 © 2014 Estate of Helen Frankenthaler / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

WILLIAMSTOWN, MASS.- Presented in the galleries of the Clark Art Institute’s newly constructed Clark Center, Make It New: Abstract Painting from the National Gallery of Art, 1950–1975 examines the different paths taken by abstract painters in the first quarter-century of the postwar period. Masterworks such as Jackson Pollock’s Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), Mark Rothko’s No. 1 (1961), and Lee Bontecou’s Untitled (1962) reveal how artists in America and Europe experimented with color, geometry, and material to expand the definition of painting.

Make It New showcases Jackson Pollock’s Lavender Mist, one of a handful of large works the artist made in mid-1950 in a converted barn in Springs, Long Island, at the height of his creative powers. This seminal work of abstraction is regarded as the point of departure—at once highlighting the apex of Pollock’s signature iconography and posing the question: But what of the next generation? Was Pollock a great liberator for them, or did he become another Picasso, a figure of authority to be emulated or challenged?

The exhibition considers the relationship between influence and originality, tracing how these artists responded to the challenge that Pollock’s mature style posed to prevailing notions of painting. Visitors will encounter five rooms, cutting across geographies and narrow timeframes. Make It New presents works within two historical contexts—Abstract Expressionism and color field—alongside canonical works organized by formal categories of pattern, texture, and shape. The exhibition is curated by Harry Cooper, curator of Modern Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., with David Breslin, associate director of the Research and Academic Program and associate curator of contemporary projects at the Clark.

“At the heart of our campus expansion was a desire to not only broaden our physical space but also to demonstrate the depth and breadth of art scholarship at the Clark,” said Director Michael Conforti. “Make It New breaks ground, offering visitors the opportunity to look closely at a single period in art history and to connect with modern art in exciting ways. The works also evocatively engage with Ando’s modernist architecture, bringing additional depth to the impact of these works.”

The title of the exhibition comes from Ezra Pound’s modernist exhortation: ‘make it new.’ Cooper said, “Ezra Pound’s ambiguous motto is appropriate for an exhibition of paintings that, at the time of their making, were at once traditional and radical, mindful of authority yet bursting with authorship.”

The installation in Ando’s expansive galleries will make it possible for visitors to see and consider multiple, contrasting works from a single vantage point, facilitating reflection on alternative narratives of postwar art. Pollock’s Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist) will be paired with Rothko’s No. 1, suggesting the formal variety of practices gathered under the banner of Abstract Expressionism. In the ‘Shape’ gallery, Target (1958) by Jasper Johns will be placed next to Richard Tuttle’s White Cotton Octagonal (1971), a piece of cut cloth whose very attachment to the wall compels visitors to see it as a painting, permitting the viewer to look closely and think across established categories. The ‘Color Field’ gallery will include works by Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis; ‘Pattern’ features works by Cy Twombly, Alma Thomas, and Marcel Broodthaers; and ‘Texture’ includes paintings by Robert Ryman, Jean Fautrier, and Lee Bontecou.

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