In the early 1970s, the idea that abstract art could be about politics and identity was hotly debated. Artists, critics, and the public grappled with the relationship between art, politics, race, and feminism. Many viewers took artists of color to task for making abstract art that did not display their commitment to civil rights and racial equality legibly enough. As the decade marched on, however, the idea that abstraction was largely “apolitical,” purely formal, and primarily an American art form was met with increased skepticism in the midst of the political and cultural upheavals of the 1960s and 70s.
These debates became urgent for the next generation of abstract artists who embraced often conflicting, mutable, and personal forms of expression. Black artists took control of their own imagery, feminist art matured, and black feminist artists emerged—contending with the power dynamics of race, place, and gender. There was no longer one road to art market success and critical ascendance; abstraction and sociopolitical concerns could be examined in tandem and expressed with a new intensity.
Kaleidoscope takes its name from the cylindrical light scope that gives a shifting view with each rotation. This third and final installation in the Abstraction, Color, and Politics series examines abstract work by local artists, women artists, and artists of color. These artists actively and assertively explore abstraction’s possibilities. They collage, cut, weave, and punch their materials with a focused physicality. New media approaches and interrogations of form and color coexist. For these practitioners, a seemingly infinite range of choices emerged in a brilliant visual dance of artistic freedom and improvisation.