Simplicity of Form

Unfolding Abstraction

At times misleadingly simple, the artworks in this exhibition deliberately question the fundamental structures of art making.

Whilst representational art invites the viewer to see the world as they know it reflected back at them, abstraction focuses on the purest elements of artmaking – line, colour, form and space – which are often used as a subject matter in and of themselves.

As art historian and critic Clement Greenberg (American, 1909-1994) remarked in his seminal 1965 essay Modernist Painting, “Where the Old Masters created an illusion of space into which one could imagine oneself walking, the illusion created by a Modernist is one into which one can only look, can travel only with the eye.”

Bringing together an unparalleled selection of works by artists such as Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland, Bridget Riley and David Hockney, Simplicity of Form: Unfolding Abstraction examines the development of abstract art and its seismic impact on contemporary Western Art.

Exhibition curated by Eve Godet Thomas

This exhibition is made possible thanks to the loan of artwork from the Green family.

Simplicity of Form: Unfolding Abstraction is on display in the Humann, Young and Upper Mezzanine Galleries through to the end of October.

Re-Defining the Boundaries of Contemporary Art

The move away from representational art within the Western canon began at the turn of the 20th century with the development of Cubism, exemplified by Pablo Picasso’s portraits, which broke with tradition by depicting the subject from multiple angles within a single artwork.

This developed through to Abstract Expressionism, which was driven by emotion and dynamic gesture in the aftermath of WWII, to the advent of Minimalism in the early 1960s, when many of the works in this exhibition were created.

It was at this time that abstraction became the dominant movement in contemporary art, ushered in by two exhibitions held in New York in 1963: Towards Abstraction at the Jewish Museum and American 1963 at the Museum of Modern Art. The art world has always been a small one, and this was never truer than in 1960s New York when a select few artists featured in these two exhibitions were hailed as re-defining the boundaries of contemporary art making.