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Franz Kline, Vawdavitch, 1955.

MCA DNA: New York School | Art Review

The Museum of Contemporary Art mounts a miniature blockbuster on Abstract Expressionism.


The latest from MCA DNA, a series showcasing the Museum of Contemporary Art’s permanent collection, is a small but powerful show. The exhibit features paintings, sculpture and drawings by post–World War II Abstract Expressionists including Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. By displaying these well-known artists side by side, curator Michael Darling has created a miniature blockbuster. All 15 pieces are remarkable, high-quality examples of the New York School—which championed abstract gestural works over figural representation—and reflect the artists’ confidence working at the height of their careers.

Rothko’s Untitled (1969) is representative of his signature paintings. Two blue-black rectangles rest on a lighter blue background, dividing the space according to his classic one-third/two-thirds ratio. The brooding shapes push claustrophobically against the edges of the frame, full of presentiments of the darkness that led to the artist’s suicide a year after he completed this painting.

The strong slashes of thick black paint in Kline’s Vawdavitch (pictured, 1955) look hasty and improvised, yet they reveal the artist’s clear, highly purposeful intentions. The gestures may be familiar, but seeing this painting surrounded by other works of Kline and his peers strongly emphasizes its transcendent qualities, as the width, direction, weight and depth of the strokes become as filled with meaning as the arrangement of hands in Renaissance paintings.

Newman’s Galaxy (1949), Philip Guston’s Untitled (1958) and Isamu Noguchi’s Flowing (1960–62) are equally compelling works in this outstanding, not-to-be-missed exhibition.

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