Morris Louis

High Museum of Art

Morris Louis had a strange career. Born in 1912, he painted in Manhattan between 1936 and 1940; then, working always in isolation, in Baltimore and Washington, DC. But it wasn’t until 1953, inspired in part by the constructive criticism of Clement Greenberg, that he really found his artistic purpose. He died in 1962, just as he was becoming famous, the victim of lung cancer caused, reportedly, in part by working with toxic pigments in a tiny studio. A 1986 Museum of Modern Art retrospective amounted to a referendum on the concerns of Greenberg, his early champion, and those of Michael Fried, another of his supporters. In that show, it was hard to respond to Louis’s art without feeling overwhelmed by formalist rhetoric. And during an extended period in which the art world turned against “beauty” and nudged abstraction toward the margins, it was natural to refuse his significance. Now,

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