Visiting SF MOMA
Approaching American Abstraction
The following works are from the Approaching American Abstraction exhibit at SFMOMA, made possible by SFMOMA’s and the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection’s partnership established in 2009. This exhibit features a variety of approaches to abstraction as a form of artistic expression since the 1950s.
Untitled by Sam Francis (1978)
This is a large piece at 122 in. by 78 in., unframed, in an indoor installation at SFMOMA.
The artist started exploring matrices like this acrylic on canvas painting in the 1970s combining intentional brushwork of the indigo grid with uncontrolled red and yellow drips on top of a white background.
The painting could be hung either horizontally or vertically due to the lack of a specific subject or object within the painting.
The blue and green horizontal and vertical lines also help create white squares in the negative space. This contrasts well with the dark grid making the white squares seem to pop out and the blue and green grid to recede inwards creating an illusion of depth. The use of dark blue and green on white evokes a feeling of the galaxy and the stars while the mix of the orderly grid and the chaotic drips are a sharp yet compelling emphasis. The repetition of the grid pattern down the length of the piece provides unity and a feeling of being trapped under a net or looking through a window - the viewer is separated from what is above.
The dark colors in the grid, while kept orderly within the lines of the grid’s boundaries, also feel free floating and organic within the design. In addition to the outer space metaphor, it also feels like the dark ocean. The viewer is floating deep in the sea, hence so much dark blue, while looking up towards the light through some seaweed represented by the splotches of yellow and green.
The white squares contrasting with the dark grid make the white squares seem to glow. Looking at a glowing white background is reminiscent of looking at a light covered bulb. The movement of the freeform drips on the white background, mostly in red and dark blue, feel like looking at bacteria floating in a petri dish through a microscope.
The painting feels orderly yet organic and mystical while scientific. It is a great contrast of many different types, combined with it’s large size makes it a wonder to view.
Untitled by Sam Francis (1980)
This is a similar piece to the previous one. It is also an acrylic paint on canvas and features the intentional brushwork grid with the uncontrolled drips. This one feels more lighthearted and fun due to the use of a light pink in the grid instead of the dark blues and greens in the previous painting. This painting also feels warmer with more use of crimson red and in bigger, larger amounts. The drips are more prominent in this piece and seem to overtake the grid. While the main focal point of the painting seems to be the white canvas square on the center left of the painting.
Ambi I by Morris Louis (1959-60)
Ambi I is acrylic paint on canvas. Louis and a group of artists helped develop Color Field painting which simplified the idea of what is considered a finished painting. The light colored canvas provides a stark contrast with the black paint that is washed over the bright colors. The colors can be seen through or underneathe the black wash. The streaks converging to the midline of the painting with a slight tilt to the center give a feeling of the colors being swallowed up by the black. The long, spike-like black streaks look like sharp, pointed teeth which also contributes to the painting feeling like a mouth eating the colors. There is also a lighter grey color which makes it seem like there is a shadow in the painting creating a feeling of depth or dimension.