One of the stars of the Orange County Museum of Art’s pleasant Birth of the Cool exhibition was a gallery of hard-edge painting. The room, which included works from the 1950s by John McLaughlin, Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, Helen Lundberg and Frederick Hammersley, argued for the contribution of hard-edge painters to the post-war, clean-modern aesthetic that has dominated American architecture and design ever since.
The gallery also convinced me that some smart curator should organize a thorough revisionist hard-edge painting survey, and that American abstraction wasn’t only about unchained, hedonistic expression, it could be about control. (See the ‘related’ note below.) While minimalism is typically considered a New York-based movement (with one important Washington adjunct), California-based hard-edge painting of the 1950s is plainly the same kind of minimalist response to abex. (In the same years, Donald Judd was a painter too.) I think that’s an art history that has not been adequately examined.
I have all this on the brain not because Birth of the Cool just opened at the Blanton Museum of Art, but because the Albright-Knox has just acquired Frederick Hammersley’s Bilingual #21, from 1965 (at right). It’ll look great when the Albright installs it with another superb hard-edge painting in its collection: John McLaughlin’s #28-1960 (1960). The A-K has one of America’s top collections of abstract art. It would be a great place for the re-consideration of the post-abex-period to begin.
Related: A nice 1999 Los Angeles Times feature by Hunter Drojohowska-Philp. Here’s a fascinating detail from Drojohowska-Philp’s story: Hammersley used a computer to ‘design’ paintings as early as the late 1960s, years before neo-hard-edge painter Peter Halley did the same thing. (And all that Foucaultian discourse around Halley? Well, read to the very end of Drojohowska-Philp…)