This ambitious group show, a collaboration between the Mead Gallery and the Tate St Ives, proposes an alternative vision to our most commonly held ideas about abstract painting from the past fifty years. In doing so, it posits abstraction as a method of continuous critical reflection. By juxtaposing the diverse ideological and conceptual viewpoints of forty-nine international artists––from Myron Stout to Katharina Grosse––curator Daniel Sturgis opens our eyes to the key role of abstraction in contemporary artistic practice.
Sturgis states in the catalogue that his perspective as a curator and as a painter is both “partial and partisan.” This is evident in that the show is neither a historical survey nor an attempt to examine all of the strands of abstraction since 1950. Indeed, its layout is simply based on connections and questions, some explicit but many not. If several artists use the history of painting as a resource to imagine how to locate themselves within the field of abstraction, others think about how to deconstruct this narrative. Sherrie Levine, for example, uses the monochrome to critique the apex of modernism. For Melt Down (After Yves Klein), 1991, she analyses Yves Klein’s patented shade of blue in a series of monochrome canvases that break down the color into its various constituent hues.
Keith Coventry’s England 1938, 1994–2011, made specifically for this occasion, brings together an evocation of modernist color studies with a critique of history and architecture. Here, a gridlike scheme conveys a color chart representing the British Standard lead paints that were used to decorate homes in the mid-1930s. Coventry’s response to the legacy of abstraction is to transform color from intangible scientific entity through the lens of historic housing in the UK into a conceptual project and back into an abstraction once again.