Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Rainbow of Color

“The whole world, as we experience it visually, comes to us through the mystic realm of color.”-Hans Hoffman

One of my favorite things about DC is the great wealth of art made available to the public. I love going into the city to visit my favorite museums, and I actually enjoy getting museum paper assignments in my art history classes. Despite this, however, it is not so common for one of the exhibits shown in DC’s museums to have actually originated in the city. Nevertheless, this is the case with the exhibit Color as Field which is currently showing at the American Art Museum. Many of the artists whose works are on display, including Louis Morris, Kenneth Noland, and Gene Davis, actually lived and painted in Washington, DC. Therefore, when put into the context of its location, the exhibit is made doubly interesting.

As an art lover, I did not want to miss the opportunity to see art made by Washingtonians on display in a major Smithsonian museum. The exhibit’s title draws direct attention to color, and I was certainly impressed by the arrangement of colors I saw. The combination of pale pinks, greens, blues, yellows, and purples in paintings such as Morris’s Floral V creates a lively and upbeat atmosphere. Personally, I thought Morris’s color composition had a very soothing effect. Other pieces such as Noland’s Earthen Bound and Helen Frankenthaler’s Flood employ a similar blend of purples, yellows, pinks and greens to add to this ambiance. Obviously, color is an essential and crucially important aspect of this exhibit. Through color, these artists were able to break from traditional painting and create a distinctive genre for themselves. However, it is all too easy to become so wrapped up in the beauty and complexity of these color arrangements that the context and message are forgotten.

It was not until I thought about the dates of the art that I begun to fully understand its meaning. Many of the works are dated in the 1950s, the first full decade following the end of World War II. During this period, America was marked by a universal relief due to the end of the war. The country was finally returning to normal status after decades of turmoil as reflected by the attitudes of its people. Furthermore, the world wars functioned as economic stabilizers, paving the way for a time of comfort and hope. Considering this historical context, it is easy to see that the bright colors and cheerful compositions of Color as Field were in response to the state of society and a reflection of the people’s general mindset.

The works of these artists prove that color can be very powerful. While it can and should be valued for its beauty, it also needs to be considered for its deeper connotations. It can depict a feeling or state of mind and evoke certain emotions. It can be a reflection on the condition of society or commentary on past events. In displaying this particular exhibit, the American Art museum shows that color can truly be the ultimate form of expression.

No comments: