October 7, 2007

Karl Benjamin's hard edge abstraction

"Karl Benjamin: Dance the Line," Louis Stern Fine Arts, West Hollywood, CA. Through Dec. 22.

"Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury," Curated by Elizabeth Armstrong. Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA. Through Jan. 6. Traveling to Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA; Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA; Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX.

“I am an intuitive painter, despite the ordered appearance of my paintings, and am fascinated by the infinite range of expression inherent in color relationships.” says 81-year-old geometric abstractionist Karl Banjamin. Benjamin stopped painting several years ago for physical reasons, but has recently seen a renewed interest in his work. Jori Finkel reports in the NYTimes: "Mr. Benjamin’s devotion to geometric abstraction has never wavered. Not even when abstract painting has come under fire for lacking political relevance.....Now that his work is getting more play at Louis Stern Fine Arts, Mr. Benjamin is taking it in stride. 'As an abstract painter, you’re always flying in the face of your country’s values,' he said. 'All of a sudden Louis is selling a lot, but I’ve never made a lot of money. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about getting the colors right.'" Read More.

Ten of Benjamin's paintings are also featured in "Birth of the Cool' at OCMA. Hugh Hart of the LA Times speaks with curator Elizabeth Armstrong. "'Benjamin really wasn't on my radar,' Armstrong says. 'But when I'd see these paintings by him, they looked like what artists today are painting. I was struck by how fresh they are, yet for the most part, these painters aren't even footnotes in art history books. I was also struck by the formal parallels between this very pure kind of painting and the Modernist architecture going on at the same time. The show is a way to do justice to these painters by seeing what else was going on at that time and exploring the context for their work.'" Read More.

At the Claremont Museum of Art, curator Steve Comba organized "A Conversation With Color: Karl Benjamin Paintings, 1953-1995" that was installed last summer. In the LA Times, Christopher Knight fills in some of the details about Benjamin's place in history. "Benjamin was one of four artists in the landmark 1959 exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that coined the term 'hard-edge painting,' now in common usage for geometric abstraction that relies on color as a primary subject. (The others were John McLaughlin, Lorser Feitelson and Frederick Hammersley.) Color is the engine of perceptual experience and visual knowledge, and it's the platform on which the radical Light and Space art of the 1960s was built....The painting is supremely sophisticated. When Benjamin began to develop this direction nearly 20 years before, Abstract Expressionism ruled the roost and art was driven by a narrowly restrictive idea of linear progress. But neither autobiography nor the outward expression of an interior psychology — both hallmarks of Abstract Expressionism — has any place in his work. That absence made Benjamin's work appear provincial. But now that the Modernist ideal has collapsed, it's the utopianism of its program that has come to seem quaint, not Benjamin's worldly art. He's a little master of hard-edge painting." Read More.

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