Evolution of Abstraction

Karl Benjamin: and the Evolution of Abstraction   

1950-1980

September 24 - December 24, 2011


Karl Benjamin: #30, 1975, oil on canvas, 48 x 40 inches

Karl Benjamin: #30, 1975, oil on canvas, 48 x 40 inches

Press Release:

Karl Benjamin did not set out to become one of the founding fathers of Hard Edge painting.  His plan was to write.  However, in 1950 while attempting to offer art instruction, along with reading and writing, to his classroom of sixth graders, Karl Benjamin discovered painting, switched his allegiance to the visual arts and the rest is history.

In the course of his lengthy career, Benjamin and his luminous, grid-based paintings have earned accolades from colleagues, collectors and curators alike.  The artist ’s thirty-year trajectory, catalogued in this exhibition, could serve as a guide for the evolution of American abstract painting.  Benjamin’s meticulous exploration of color, his intuitive understanding of complex spatial relationships and the sheer joie de vivre with which each canvas announces itself to the viewer are, in equal parts, impeccable and irresistible.

In a 2008 interview, Benjamin commented, “I wasn’t thinking about a career in art; I just wanted to make beautiful paintings.”  This selection of paintings should persuade anyone with eyes that the artist has more than succeeded.  He has triumphed.

Louis Stern Fine Arts is the exclusive representative of the artist, and is pleased to present the exhibition as a participating gallery in the Getty initiative Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980.  The exhibition is accompanied by a full-color catalogue with text by Suzanne Muchnic.


Bill Bush, publisher of Artweek.LA, a leading online magazine dedicated to the Los Angeles art scene

Karl Benjamin did not set out to become one of the founding fathers of Hard Edge painting. His plan was to write. However, in 1950 while attempting to offer art instruction, along with reading and writing, to his classroom of sixth graders, Karl Benjamin discovered painting, switched his allegiance to the visual arts and the rest is history.

In the course of his lengthy career, Benjamin and his luminous, grid-based paintings have earned accolades from colleagues, collectors and curators alike. The artist's thirty-year trajectory, catalogued in this exhibition, could serve as a guide for the evolution of American abstract painting. Benjamin's meticulous exploration of color, his intuitive understanding of complex spatial relationships and the sheer joie de vivre with which each canvas announces itself to the viewer are, in equal parts, impeccable and irresistible.



The decade of the 1970s saw an explosion of art across America--everywhere, of every kind, by everyone. Nowhere did this explosion have more resonance than in Los Angeles; during the decade the city flooded with artists, newly graduated from Southern California's many art schools and departments or attracted by the city's growing cultural sophistication and complexity. And nowhere more than Los Angeles did the anomalies of 1970s artistic discourse make themselves powerfully felt.



In the wake of Minimalism, Conceptual Art, and the proliferation of "Media Arts" (video, performance, artists' books, etc.), many proclaimed the death of painting. But painting flourished--and, in response to the moment's heady sense of experiment, the discipline mutated, fused with other practices, and generally metamorphosed as if emerging from a chrysalis. In LA, in fact, painting seemed to emerge from a mad scientist's laboratory, a de-domesticated creature able to adopt many guises and absorb many substances. Many pictures were all but invisible. Many "paintings" lacked paint. Things hung on the wall as if on a coat rack or shelf--or they didn't hang at all. Paintings, paint-things, non-paintings, and un-paintings could be produced as readily in a tool shed or car repair shop as in a studio.



Such willingness to stretch the definitions of painting almost to the breaking point could be found all over America, but this disregard for painterly tradition was particularly acute in Los Angeles. Unlike New York, say, or San Francisco, LA had never been much of a painting town. Its major creative industry favored image over object and tended to regard the act of painting as a backlot-workplace job rather than a sacred ritual. The end product was the goal, and if the end product bespoke the process of its making, that process was one of material fabrication rather than personal expression. (Most nominal "expressionists" prominent in Los Angeles were in fact more concerned with political than with personal issues.) Given its growing surfeit of art schools and art departments, however, LA was a place where one could learn, teach, and make good painting--and where one could tinker with painting, expanding its techniques and tweaking its definitions without concern for the disapproval of an entrenched establishment…


The four artists centrally associated with "Abstract Classicism"--John McLaughlin, Lorser Feitelson, Frederick Hammersley, and Karl Benjamin---were eminence grises in LA art throughout the decade. McLaughlin and Feitelson died and Hammersley moved to New Mexico, leaving Benjamin, an influential teacher at Pomona College, and semi-figurative hard-edger Helen Lundeberg the vital proponents of this direction. In their wake, younger geometric painters in the later 1960s turned to a more elemental, color- and even perception-oriented approach, realizing structurally and coloristically ambitious work. Among these were Judy Chicago's sprayed acrylic on acrylic panels of the early '70s, Ron Davis's tromp l'oeil geometries and Norman Zammitt's gradated "sunrise" abstractions, which he produced in that decade as well as the previous. In turn, these anticipated the emergence of monochrome painting--the ultimate on-canvas minimalism--later in the decade, practiced by such as James Hayward, Roy Thurston, Edith Baumann, Alan Wayne, David Trowbridge, Sam Erenberg, Patsy Krebs, and a host of others…



 

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