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Abstraction, Color, and Politics in the 1960s & 1970s: Kaleidoscope

Part III 2/22/2020 - 10/25/2020

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. 

Naomi Dickerson
Second Score for Black Opera
lithograph on paper
30 1/16 in x 22 7/16 in (76.36 cm x 56.99 cm);30 1/16 in x 22 7/16 in (76.36 cm x 56.99 cm)
Gift of the Michigan Workshop of Fine Prints.
Lester L. Johnson
Total Eclipse
acrylic on canvas
46 in. x 36 in. ( 116.8 cm x 91.4 cm )
Gift of Dr. Seymour and Barbara K. Adelson
Lester L. Johnson
One for Gladys Knight
color lithograph on paper
21 15/16 in. x 30 1/8 in. ( 55.8 cm x 76.5 cm )
Gift of Detroit Workshop of Fine Prints
Edda Renouf
Night Sounds
chalk and pastel on Arches paper
12 1/2 in. ( 31.8 cm )
Gift of Ms. Edda Renouf.
Edda Renouf
Erased Structure and Pastel Chalk
chalk on paper
21 1/8 in. x 18 13/16 in. ( 53.6 cm x 47.8 cm )
Museum Purchase
Louise Fishman
Untitled
photostat and graphite
7 1/8 in x 5 1/8 in (18.1 cm x 13.02 cm)
Gift of the Marvin Felheim Collection
Louise Fishman
Untitled
photostat and graphite
7 1/8 x 5 1/8 in. (18.1 x 13.02 cm)
Gift of the Marvin Felheim Collection
Louise Fishman
Untitled
photostat and graphite
7 1/8 x 5 1/8 in. (18.1 x 13.02 cm)
Gift of the Marvin Felheim Collection
This work is a square, abstract composition with thick, overlapping yellow and gray lines in a labyrinthine pattern. The print is signed and dated (l.r.) "Anni Albers 1970." and titled and numbered (l.l.) "Yellow Meander 51/75" in pencil.
Anni Albers
Yellow Meander
screenprint on paper
28 1/8 in x 24 1/8 in (71.44 cm x 61.28 cm)
Gift of the Estate of Richard H. Shackson
A vast surface of orange yields in the very bottom of the painting to a swath of yellow, under which there is a line of white and green, and under that a thin black line.
Helen Frankenthaler
Sunset Corner
acrylic on canvas
121 in. x 92 7/8 in. x 1 1/2 in. ( 307.34 cm x 235.9 cm x 3.81 cm )
Museum Purchase
An assemblage of wooden boxes painted black. The boxes are mounted on top of each other and each box contains carved pieces of wood in various shapes. 
Louise Nevelson
Dark Presence III
painted wood
97 in x 140 ¼ in x 10 in (246.38 cm x 356.24 cm x 25.4 cm)
Gift of Bobby Kotick
Jennifer Bartlett
Day and Night
drypoint on heavy wove paper
30 3/4 in. x 20 3/4 in. ( 78.1 cm x 52.7 cm )
Museum Purchase

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15 Collection Object Sources

Total Eclipse (2005/2.62)
Night Sounds (1977/1.198)
Untitled (1983/1.301.3)
Untitled (1983/1.301.2)
Untitled (1983/1.301.1)
Yellow Meander (2015/2.20)
Sunset Corner (1973/1.813)
Dark Presence III (2016/2.119)
Day and Night (1978/2.58)
Fire Engine Red (1997/1.136.1-2)
2 Feb '78 (2015/2.43)

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Last Updated

April 14, 2020 10:11 a.m.

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