Around the world, in the 1950s and ’60s, artists found new ways to make their mark. Instead of applying paint with a brush, they painted with their feet, stained and soaked canvases with thinned pigment, or poured vibrantly hued dyes on tin. Others even slashed or burned their surfaces. The idea of personal, direct gesture, in art movements such as Abstract Expressionism, Gutai, and Art Informel, inspired experiments with new materials and techniques that were in some way uncontrollable, whether the chance outcome of a chemical reaction or a wild bodily performance. Some of the resulting works—such as a “self-obliterating” composition and a “self-destroying sculpture”—are also attacks on art itself.
Many of the artists in this gallery came of age during World War II in the totalitarian Axis powers nations of Japan, Germany, and Italy. By upending conventional artistic processes, these artists envisioned broader social transformations, in the wake of catastrophe and amid continued geopolitical instability after the war.
Organized by Michelle Kuo, The Marlene Hess Curator of Painting and Sculpture, and Joan Kee, Ford Scholar, with Danielle Johnson, former Curatorial Assistant, and Rachel Rosin, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints.