Japanese artist Saburo Murakami's son dramatically opened the exhibition during the media preview on 2/15/13 by running through and destroying the wall of paper, referencing his father's performance piece, Passing Through, 1956
For most of us, and for most of history, the canvas was a surface to be respected. Artists looked to it to map their creativity and to communicate their inspiration.
Following several periods of dramatic change in the art world, such as impressionism, art nouveau, art deco, surrealism, cubism and more, WWII took hold of Europe, sparing no one from its horrors and devastation. In the period that followed the conclusion of the war and the beginning of reconstruction in the late 1940s, many artsits were left with questions about how to be creative and inspired after acknowleding that the world was capable of such evil and widespread warfare, including the levelling of entire cities, the destruction of historic monuments and buildings, and the psychological and human terror wrought by atomic weapons.
The MCA's newest exhibition, which comes to them from The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, is a dark show. As a viewer, there is a lot of heavy material to digest emotionally. The perspectives are illuminating, however, as they provide personal insights into a period that has been much covered from a world history point of view but which is not as known on the art history timeline. The period covered is considered to be particularly significant because of the conceptual changes associated with the picture plane. Artists abandoned paint in favor of more caustic materials, such as plastic sheeting and blow torches. They used whatever they could find at the time, such as burned books or burlap sacks used in food rationing. They also literally ripped into their canvases, manipulating and destroying them in ways representative of what they'd seen happen in towns around the world. Chief Curator Michael Darling explained that the canvas was no longer a mirror or something that simply reflected an artist's own vision - it was something that could be defaced, showing fragility and vulnerability. The art of this time came out of countries that were the most damaged by the war - Italy, Japan, Germany andmore. The art world was shrinking as the experiences that had happened so many places came together.
Artists to watch for in this exhibition are the Italian painter Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri, Yves Klein, Lee Bontecou, John Latham and Saburo Murakami, to name just a few. Each had to think about art and creation in a new light after such a dark period, and each sought to communicate as well as heal through their own creations.
Fontana in particular began breaking through the canvas surface in 1949 by using a pencil, poking random holes around the surface. Later he used X-acto blades to slice through paintings, creating what look like shark gills that show what's behind the surface. He is credited with stripping away any previous reverence for the canvas.
Alberto Burri, another Italian artist, experimented with burning plastic sheeting with a torch, perhaps to reference the fiery deaths of many of those who were murdered in the Holocaust. Burri also used burlap sackcloths in reference to the Marshall Plan and the rations imposed throughout Europe. Burri, a medic in the army during the war, used his stiching skills to piece the sacks together, representing the broken nations that were being roughly pieced back together.
Yves Klein also created charred silhouettes on paper tempered with water to mimic the effects of a nucleur explosion on a human population, for instance when a person has been incinerated but only their shadow, or a dark imprint, is left behind. According to Darling, Klein saw destruction as a means of making art.
These artists are now familiar, established names, but at the time they were in the middle of their careers and trying to navigate where to go next. The exhibition features nearly 100 works created between 1949-1962 by artists from eight countries.
Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void 1949-1962
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)
February 16-June 2, 2013
Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962 has been organized by Paul Schimmel, former Chief Curator of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in association with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
Alberto Burri (Italian, 1915-95), Combustione pastica (Plastic combustion), 1958
Yves Klein (French, 1928-62), Peinture de feu sans titre (Untitled fire painting [F 13]), 1961, burned cardboard mounted on panel.
Lee Bontecou (American, b. 1931), Untitled, 1959, welded steel, canvas, black fabric, soot, and wire. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Arnold H. Maremont, 1960.
John Latham (British, 1921-2006), Great Uncle Estate, 1960, Books, wire, nails, metal chain, string, leather, and paint on canvas on hard board. Couresy the artist and Lisson Gallery, London
Jacques Villegle (French, b. 1926), Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, 1961. Torn posters on canvas. Collection of Marie-Aline and Jean-Francois Prat