The act of abstracting

 Polly Apfelbaum, Feely Feelies Feeley, 2010, various materials and sizes – Plasticine and non-drying clay.  “Not Extractions, but Abstractions, Part II” at Clifton Benevento 
Henri Matisse, “Bowl of Apples on a Table,” 1916, oil on canvas, 45 1/4 x 35 1/4.” Courtesy of Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia

 Halsey Rodman “In Here” at Laurel Gitlen

Installation view “You Were There” at Rachel Uffner. From left, Joe Bradley 2005, Sara Greenberger Rafferty 2010, Justin Adian 2005, Sarah Braman 2010 

When I was at the phenomenal Matisse exhibition at MoMA the other day, a grey-haired lady pointed to the date on one of the portraits and exclaimed, “It’s almost a hundred years old!” Later in the week, I opened the NY Times to discover Roberta Smith declaring that Western abstract painting (as opposed to Eastern incarnations in textiles, mosaics, etc.) is indeed a hundred years old, give or take, and wishing it a happy birthday. Galleries Smith lists in the article that have abstract work in their summer shows include Miguel Abreu, Lisa Cooley, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Anton Kern, Number 35, D�Amelio Terras, Tracy Williams Ltd., Clifton Benevento, Laurel Gitlen, Rachel Uffner Gallery.  I’d like to add STOREFRONT to the list, where I’m currently in a show with Cathy Nan Quinlan and Joy Curtis, curated by Hrag Vartanian. On Sunday, August 22, 2-4 pm, everyone is invited to STOREFRONT for a birthday party and discussion of contemporary abstract art. Special guests to be announced. Stay tuned for more details.

“Abstraction has spawned styles, schools and opposing camps, not to mention volumes of criticism,” Smith writes. “It has repeatedly cross-fertilized with representational painting; absorbed found materials and aspects of popular culture; adopted the strategies of postmodern irony and appropriation. In addition the principles of abstraction have spread to photography and sculpture and beyond � even to the mind-set behind Conceptual Art, with its penchant for systems, categories and repetition that isolate and reorganize, and thereby abstract, aspects of reality. It is worth remembering, when considering the ever-expanding definition of abstract art, that the term refers to the act of abstracting from reality. For whatever reason, such art � in paint and other mediums � is unusually visible in Manhattan galleries this summer. The shows in question don�t always set out to focus on abstraction per se, but that doesn�t stop them from providing a lively account of some of its movements.”

On Display: New Work by Sharon Butler, Cathy Nan Quinlan, Joy Curtis,” curated by Hrag Vartanian. STOREFRONT, Brooklyn, NY. Through August 22.

Related post: 
Alan Lupiani’s artblogNYC post on Emerging Abstract/Conceptual Painters in Greenpoint, Brooklyn


  1. Right on the money Sharon. History has a way of repeating itself. It appears that in times of war and economic turmoil, we in America tend to become more "reductive", which seems pretty natural. Perhaps this has to do with the inward soul searching and heightened self-awareness in times like these. Thanks for the post. Alan Lupiani

  2. Alan–I just added a link to your "5 Alive" post. Thanks.

  3. Wonderful post. And thank you for adding the Roberta Smith excerpt. So many look at abstraction and don't know where to begin. Wish I were in NYC to see some of these works in person.

    BigLittleWolf @ DailyPlateOfCrazy

  4. By the way, did anyone try, like I did, to draw something in the Matisse show, only to be told that it was forbidden? I tried this when I saw the show at the Art Institute here in Chicago, and got into a row with the guards. Not taking photos: sketching, in a near empty gallery. Reason given: "Some very wealthy patrons loaned their own PERSONAL pictures." She wasn't aware of the non sequitur.

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