Color as Field: American Painting, 1950-1975 (American Federation of Arts)

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Press:Yale University Press American Federation of Arts/Yale University Press; 1 edition (November 29, 2007)
Publication Date:2007-11-29
Author Name:Karen Wilkin,Carl Belz


Color field painting, which emerged in the United States in the 1950s, is based on radiant, uninflected hues. 
Exemplified by the work of Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Larry Poons, and Frank Stella, among others, these stunningly beautiful and impressively scaled paintings constitute one of the crowning achievements of postwar American abstract art.
Color as Field offers a long-overdue reevaluation of this important aspect of American abstract painting. The authors examine how color field painting rejects the gestural, layered, and hyper-emotional approach typical of Willem de Kooning and his followers, yet at the same time develops and expands ideas about all-overness and the primacy of color posited by the work of other members of the abstract expressionist generation, such as Adolph Gottlieb, Hans Hofmann, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko.  From the fresh historical standpoint of the 21st century, this fascinating reassessment ranges across the artists’ individual approaches and their commonalities, concluding with insights into the ongoing legacy of post-1970s color field painting among present-day artists.

About the Author

Karen Wilkin is an independent curator and critic specializing in 20th-century modernism. 
Carl Belz is Director Emeritus of the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University.


Arts & Photography,Collections, Catalogs & Exhibitions,Painting,History & Criticism,Criticism

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Comment List (Total:5)

  •     This book represents the catalog for a circulating museum show devoted to the prime movers (Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski and Helen Frankenthaler) in the Color Field school of painting, also called "post-painterly abstraction" by Clement Greenberg, in order to differentiate it from the more autographic type of paint handling found in Abstract Expressionism, the style that preceded it. The advocacy of the autocratic and well-hated Greenberg, America's leading art critic of the 20th century, has done much to inhibit proper scholarly and market respect for the style. The essay by Karen Wilkin, an independent art historian with a long-standing interest in the subject, is clear, concise and beautifully illustrated. My major criticism is that the enthusiasm of the author leads her to several dubious conclusions and a general lack of critical and/or comparative thinking: none of the artists have weaknesses, everyone is a good and worthy contributor, in other words, "thank you for sharing". For example, both the exhibition and the essay try to make the case for a number of secondary, even minor or weak artists (e.g. Walter Darby Bannard and Friedl Dzubas) as vital members of the movement. There is also an attempt to include major abstract expressionists like Hans Hofmann, Robert Motherwell, Barnet Newman and Mark Rothko in the group rather than considering them strictly as precursors or major influences on the development of the style. The primacy of Frankenthaler over Louis is also subtly argued for and highly debatable; the invention of a technique (the stained and poured canvas) is not the same as making a dramatic change in the quality and intent of an art form. There is a structural clarity, chromic inventiveness, absence of draughtmanship and coolness in Louis and Noland that is quite distinct from the decorative and tasteful art of Frankenthaler; these features make Color Field painting in their hands a close relation or precursor (as Wilkin points out) to 1960s Minimalism. At the same time, it is very refreshing to see an important writer give some credit, in proper proportion I might add, to Sam Gilliam, an African-American and a Washington artist like Noland and Louis, and to Ronald Davis, a Californian, who is more often remembered, if at all, in relation to the reductive abstraction of Frank Stella. Overall, this is an extremely fine contribution to the field; it covers the widest number of artists and properly situates Color Field painting alongside Minimalism and Pop as one of the major artistic developments of the turbulently productive 1960s.
  •     I bought this book new for $15 shipped - great price since the book is out of print.It provides a detailed insight on painting from 1950 - 1975 in terms of color, reviewing people such as Noland, Stella, and Rothko.Definitely worth your time if you're interested in how color has changed in the 20th century.
  •     -very good essay, decent reproductions, good selection of Color Field paintings, BUT, the binding is bad. The inner hinge is very poorly designed: thin glossy paper glued to boards over rough cloth tape, which is very visible and ugly. This is one that would be better in paperback.
  •     What a wonderful survey of Color Field painting. The colors are magnificent and I'm certain, true to the actual painting. The writing is superb and shows the author's grasp of this phenomenal breakthrough in the history of art. At the end, a wonderful feature is a short bio of each artist whose work appears in the book, along with a photo. An important book to have -- as a text (if one were teaching a class on Modern Art) or for one's private collection.
  •     on time and as expected

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