If asked to identify an abstract painting, most people will readily point to one of Picasso”s works or Salvador Dali”s “Persistence of Time.” Although cubism and surrealism are the unmistakable norm in the world of abstract art, limiting the definition of abstraction to these two movements is a grave fallacy.

Paul Wong
Ben Nicholson”s “”Still Life.””<br><br>Courtesy of UMMA

The exhibit, “A Matter of Degree: Abstraction in Twentieth Century Art” at the University”s Museum of Art, challenges observers to re-examine seemingly simple artwork, such as still life and watercolor, in the context of abstraction.

The works displayed in the exhibit cover the entire century and includes paintings from both European and American artists. Great Britain, Italy, Switzerland, France, Spain and Russia are among the many European countries represented in the exhibit.

A broad range of mediums ranging from watercolor to bronze to a Campbell”s Soup can were used to achieve each artist”s desired effect. “Napoleon Standing Next to a Chair,” by Larry Rivers, is an example of a creative conglomeration of mixed media, including patent leather, felt, plastic, wood, wool and spray paint. Dubuffet used a sand-mixed-into oil technique to present his message of the irony of beauty in his work “Souirire” or “The Smile.” Finally, the soft blending of various skin colors in the painting of an agoraphobic woman bathing titled, “Femme assise dans sa baignore,” evokes the idea of passivity characteristic of several of the pieces in the exhibit.

One of the more easily-recognizable artists, Andy Warhol, took his reserved position as the feature attraction in the exhibit. The broad variety of his works brags inconspicuously of Warhol”s ability to master an extensive range of subject matter, ranging from his depiction of the glamorous idol in “Marilyn Monroe” to contemplation of death and suffering in “The Electric Chair.”

The common theme throughout the exhibit appears to be the artists” desire to challenge the observer. For instance, at first glance, “Untitled (Torso),” by Kiki Smith, seems to be nothing more than a display of blatant sexuality. With further observation, however, one might recognize Smith”s depiction of the body as a bold statement that it is worthy of praise in its unglorified, naked form.

Even though many of the artists featured embody a completely different style, a few build upon other artists” creativity and take their style one step further. Indeed, the artists Walkowitz and Vlaminek cite the influence of Paul Czanne. Despite the influence of previous works, however, each artist is a valuable component to the world of abstract art.

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