artist / participant
With an exceptional output of mature work that spanned little more than ten years, Morris Louis played an essential role in shaping post-war American art. Morris Louis Now: An American Master Revisited is the first consideration of Louis’s work in the United States since 1986 and offers a critical re-examination of this influential painter’s legacy.
Featuring approximately 30 canvases produced from 1951 through 1962, Morris Louis Now examines the work that defined Louis’ career and that contributed to a critical turning point in American art. Louis worked in an innovative manner by “staining” the canvas with thinned acrylic pigments, using intense, rich washes of color to create unified compositions. Although he worked in isolation from other artists, Louis’ work is often grouped together with that of Color Field painters from the early 1960s, who were part of a trend that developed alongside Abstract Expressionism.
The exhibition will include examples from three significant bodies of the artist’s work. The Veils (1954, 1958–59) are noted for their complex washes of color, which emerge principally as bands at the paintings’ edges and are often compared to natural phenomena such as light, air and water. The Unfurleds (1960–61) have streams of intense, opaque pigment that flow inward from the sides over a white background. The Stripes (1961–62) series features sequential strips of pure color that create a rainbow effect.
Also featured in the exhibition are two pieces from the High’s permanent collection. Number 1-81 (1961) was acquired in 2001 with funds from Harriet and Elliott Goldstein and the High Museum of Art Enhancement Fund. The work, painted in the last year of Louis’ life, is a Stripe painting and consists of parallel bands of brilliant, pure, intense colors. Para III (1959), a promised gift of the artist’s widow, Marcella Louis Brenner, is composed of vibrant pools of color that bleed together as they run across and down the picture plane, creating a sense of energy and action unlike Louis’ more serene works.
Morris Louis Morris Louis Bernstein was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1912. He studied at the Maryland Institute of Fine and Applied Arts from 1928–1933 and left shortly before completing the program. Although he lived in New York City from 1936 to 1940, Louis was never fully a part of the New York art scene. He dropped his last name around this time. From 1940 on, he worked alone in Maryland and Washington, D.C. American artist Kenneth Noland was one of his few close friends among other artists.
During a trip to New York City with Noland and art critic Clement Greenberg in the spring of 1953, Louis saw the work of Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock and was introduced to Helen Frankenthaler, whose painting Mountains and Sea (1952) had a profound effect on him. In Louis’ words, Frankenthaler created “a bridge between Pollock and what was possible.” After this experience, Louis began his first series of Veil paintings in 1954.
Exhibition Catalogue The accompanying 126-page catalogue includes 28 plates and 45 color figures. It also features new scholarship on Louis’ work that incorporates aspects of the critical debate on Color Field painting as well as an assessment of Louis’ influence on contemporary practice and subsequent generations of painters. Contributors include Jeffrey Grove, Wieland Family Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, High Museum of Art; Klaus Kertess, Independent Scholar & Curator; Alexander Nemerov, Professor, Yale University, History of Art Department; and Shepherd Steiner, Independent Scholar.
Exhibition Organization and Support Morris Louis Now: An American Master Revisited is organized by the High Museum of Art in close collaboration with the artist’s widow, Marcella Louis Brenner, and independent scholar Diane Upright. After opening at the High Museum, the exhibition will travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego from February 17–May 6, 2007. This exhibition is generously supported by Marcella Louis Brenner and by Harriet and Elliott Goldstein.
Morris Louis Now
An American Master Revisited
04.11.06 - 24.01.07 High Museum of Art, Atlanta
17.02.07 - 06.05.07 Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego
20.09.07 - 06.01.08 Hirshhorn Museum, Washington