The Whitney Museum is usually brimming with bold and colorful works, but the American art institution is taking it a step further this month with a new exhibition entirely dedicated to hallucinatory paintings created in the 1960s.
Titled “Spilling Over,” the psychedelic show features works by more than a dozen artists, including Josef Albers, Helen Frankenthaler, Sam Gilliam and Bob Thompson. According to a curatorial statement, it was Thompson’s ruminations that led to the thesis of the presentation: “I paint many paintings that tell me slowly that I have something inside of me that is just bursting, twisting, sticking, spilling over to get out,” he once remarked. “Out into souls and mouths and eyes that have never seen before.”
With a focus on abstract art, “Spilling Over” is less about drawing connections between the featured artists and more about creating a gallery space that evokes the frantic energy of the ’60s. Geometric shapes, like Alvin Loving’s inky, neon “Septehedron,” are displayed near vertigo-inducing pieces, like Richard Anuszkiewicz’s “The Fourth of the Three.”
Curator David Breslin told ALL ARTS that the pieces were selected to conjure a heightened sense of awareness of society and culture. It’s no accident that most of the artists featured in the show were active participants in the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements.
“It was a way to create a social space, and a political space,” he said. “I think the artists at this time were thinking not just about how to make paintings that you hang on a wall, but how do you create experiences where people are conscious of themselves and their bodies. I think it creates an opportunity to witness a clearing where people can think about how art and color interact with society at large.”
All of the works are drawn from The Whitney’s permanent collection, but some haven’t been shown in more than two decades. Breslin said one of the biggest challenges, aside from choosing which pieces to include, was finding a way to display them in a modern context without robbing them of their historical roots.
“They still had their really old, dusty frames from the ’60s and ’70s,” Breslin said. “They were definitely periodized. We wanted to make it historically interesting, but we didn’t want it to look old fashioned. Part of how we were able to avoid that was to make the work look like the best version of itself and, in some cases, that meant ripping the frame off of a Frank Stella or a Richard Anuszkiewicz painting. We wanted the works to be approached in their own terms, not the terms curators or collectors or decorators wanted to make the painting fall into.”
He said he hopes visitors leave the show with a renewed sense of appreciation for color and abstraction.
“I just want people to have such a pleasurable, exuberant experience,” he said. “There’s a belief that pleasure can maybe be a little bit embarrassing, but there’s a politics of pleasure. There’s a role of pleasure in society, and that beauty and politics don’t need to be separate from one another.”
“Spilling Over” Runs through August 2019.
Top Image: Kenneth Noland's "New Day," 1967.