Post-War Painting & Sculpture

Becky Bevins, 20th Century Abstract Painting Research Fellow

Becky Bevins is the Thoma Foundation’s 2017 20th Century Abstract Painting Research Fellow. Read Bevins’ abstract below:

“1960s critics writing about Post Painterly abstraction often discussed it in terms of feeling or emotion. Michael Fried praised Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski’s “depth of feeling,” while Irving Sandler insisted that color’s “emotional vibrations” are central to Post Painterly abstraction. Yet today it is hard to appreciate that Post Painterly abstraction could picture deep feeling or provoke it on behalf of the spectator. One reason for this difficulty is the strong association between Post Painterly abstraction and more recent interpretations of Clement Greenberg’s thought, specifically his praise for modernist painting and sculpture that appealed to vision above all other senses. This isolation of the visual has been read by many art historians (among them Marcia Brenner, Rosalind Krauss, and Caroline Jones) as an attempt to repress the unruliness of the body with the discipline of the mind. Yet Greenberg’s criticism shows that he valued the synthesis of the body with the mind by way of aesthetic experiences that are spontaneous and pleasurable yet nonetheless attain the clarity and distance we associate with conscious thought. Furthermore, Greenberg’s 1964 exhibition Post Painterly Abstraction featured artists—not only Olitski and Noland, but also Gene Davis, Helen Frankenthaler, and Morris Louis among others—who sought such a synthesis of spontaneous feeling and formal clarity. This paper opens up new analyses of the objects in the exhibition by reading them in light of the emotional intelligence they strive to embody.”