Abstraction, Color, and Politics in the Early 1970s 

September 22, 2018 - September 29, 2019

Can abstract art be about politics? In the early 1970s, that question was hotly debated as artists, critics, and the public grappled with the relationship between art, politics, race, and feminism. Many of those debates centered on bringing to light the roles that gender and race played in how “great modern art” was defined and assessed, and on employing art to advance civil rights. Within this discourse, abstraction had an especially fraught role. To many, the decision by women artists and artists of color  to make abstract art seemed to represent a retreat from politics and protest: an abnegation of a commitment to civil rights and feminism. Abstraction, Color, and Politics in the Early 1970s presents large-scale work by four leading American artists—Helen Frankenthaler, Sam Gilliam, Al Loving, and Louise Nevelson—who chose abstraction as a means of expression within the intense political climate of the early 1970s.

Lead support for Abstraction, Color, and Politics in the Early 1970s is provided by the University of Michigan Office of the Provost, Michigan Medicine, the Richard and Rosann Noel Endowment Fund, the Herbert W. and Susan L. Johe Endowment, and the University of Michigan Institute for Research on Women and Gender. Additional generous support is provided by the Robert and Janet Miller Fund and the University of Michigan Department of Political Science.
 

Images

Sam Gilliam, Situation VI—Pisces 4, ca. 1972, polypropylene painted multiform. Williams College Museum of Art Museum purchase, Otis Family Acquisition Trust and Kathryn Hurd Fund. Courtesy of Joseph Goddu Fine Arts, Inc., New York. © Sam Gilliam
 

Sam Gilliam, Situation VI—Pisces 4 (detail), ca. 1972, polypropylene painted multiform. Williams College Museum of Art Museum purchase, Otis Family Acquisition Trust and Kathryn Hurd Fund. Courtesy of Joseph Goddu Fine Arts, Inc., New York. © Sam Gilliam

Al Loving, Bowery Morning, 1971, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy the Estate of Al Loving and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York.
 

Timeline

Exhibition Timeline

SatSep 22
Exhibition Opens
Sun
Oct 7
Abstraction, Color, and Politics in the Early 1970s
2:00pm3:00pm
Gallery Talks and Tours
Sun
Nov 18
In Conversation: Can Abstract Art Be About Politics?
3:00pm4:00pm
Artists and Curators / Exhibitions Related / Gallery Talks and Tours
SunSep 29
Exhibition Closes