Sunday, March 11, 2012

Shapes of colour

The exhibition Vormen van de kleur at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 20.11.1966-15.1.1967 was curated by W. A. L. Beeren. The exhibition title was given in English as New Shapes of Color. The work of 37 artists representing the Hard-edge abstract movement was shown, including Josef Albers, Max Bill, Victor Vasarely, Alexander Liberman, Barnett Newman, Frank Stella, Robyn Denny, Robert Indiana, and Donald Judd. Four artists - Kelly, Bonies, Pfahler, and Turnbull - contributed original screenprints (serigraphs) to the catalogue, which was printed in an edition of 2200 copies. My copy of this delightful work has one further interest, in that it comes from the library of the American artists Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson Shahn.

The ownership stamp of Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson Shahn

Ellsworth Kelly has long been a hero of mine, and I like the deceptive simplicity of this print. Apparently this was the second screenprint he made, and I'm sorry my wonky photograph doesn't do its crisp lines justice. Born in Newburgh, New York, in 1923, Kelly is still alive and creating art. From June 5 to September 3 this year the Metropolitan Museum in New York will be exhibiting Ellsworth Kelly Plant Drawings. For those who think of him only as a severely minimalist painter and sculptor, the plant drawings will come as an amazing revelation. They show how closely he looks at the natural world, and how he extrapolates the shapes, curves, and divided spaces of his abstract art from that close observation. I was bowled over by the joint exhibition of plant drawings by Kelly and Matisse at the Pompidou Centre a few years ago, and this one will be unmissable, for those who can get to it.

Ellsworth Kelly, Untitled
Screenprint, 1966

The Dutch artist Bob Bonies was born in the Hague in 1937. He studied art in The Hague and Stockholm. His art looks back to Mondrian, Albers, and the group de Stijl as well as sideways to contemporaries such as Ellsworth Kelly and Olle Baertling (with whom he was closely associated in the 1960s). Bob Bonies has restricted himself to just four colours plus white: the primary colours red, yellow, and blue, and green as the complementary colour of red. The de Stijl motto "Less is more" is equally applicable to the pared-down yet perfectly balanced art of Bonies.

Bob Bonies, Untitled
Screenprint, 1966

Georg-Karl Pfahler was born in Emetzheim in 1926. Pfahler studied at the Fine Art Academies of Nuremberg and Stuttgart. Initially influenced by Action Painting and Art Informel, in the 1960s Georg-Karl Pfahler turned to Hard-Edge Abstraction, influenced by artists such as Josef Albers. Georg-Karl Pfahler was the only German Hard-Edge painter. He also worked in three dimensions, and was involved in numerous architectural projects. He died in Emetzheim in 2002.

Georg-Karl Pfahler, Untitled
Screenprint, 1966

The Scottish minimalist sculptor and painter William Turnbull was born in Dundee in 1922. After WWII, in which he served in the RAF, Turnbull attended the Slade. Being out of sympathy with the Neo-Romanticism of the painting department at that time, Turnbull changed over to sculpture, where he befriended Eduardo Paolozzi and Nigel Henderson. In 1950 Turnbull and Paolozzi had a joint show at the Hanover Gallery in London. In New York in 1957 William Turnbull met Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, who became a close friend.

William Turnbull, Untitled
Screenprint, 1966

The text of the catalogue consists of a short introduction by Edy de Wilde, the director of the Stedelijk Museum, an essay by W. A. L. Beeren, the four screenprints, and individual pages on each of the featured artists. A nice touch at the end is a list of the artists' addresses - almost all of them give their home addresses rather than a dealer or gallery.

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