Form Matters

Tetsumi Kudo, The Flowing Movement and Its Condensation in Mind, 1958 - © Aomori Museum of Art

Tetsumi Kudo, The Flowing Movement and Its Condensation in Mind, 1958 - © Aomori Museum of Art

Materialist abstraction is also accounted for in the exhibition, with work that was grouped under such labels as “art informel,” “abstract expressionism,” and “Gutai,” as well as work by artists who responded to the look of this work but found different and local meanings in the material and how they handled it. Critics at the time emphasized stylistic competition that has often devolved into national competition in historical accounts, pitting, for example, the French artist Nicolas de Stael against the American Franz Kline as a symptom of the official promotion of American values — individual freedom and democracy — as embodied in abstract painting.

Today it is easier to see the transnational character of many of these artistic strategies, and Postwar emphasizes the affinity of ideas and materials among artists who emigrated to the U.S. from Europe. It also documents the encounters of artists from around the world who gathered in such metropolitan centers as Paris, London, and Mexico City; and reviews the proximity and circulation of art works in international exhibitions and small press publications. Yoshihiro Jiro in Japan, Jean Dubuffet in France, and Avinash Chandra in India, for example, shared a belief in art that is organic, materialist, and vitalist. Others sought to push gestural painting into full-body, performative experiments, including Carolee Schneemann, Hermann Nitsch, Niki de Saint Phalle, Tetsumi Kudo, and Kazuo Shiraga.

This materialist art is typical of the postwar period in its difference from earlier European iterations of modernism, often rejecting geometry in a critique of rationality and science, which were seen as dead-ending in the war and the bomb. Instead, artists favored gesture, raw materials, chance, and physical laws; surfaces are tactile, rough, and uneven. Many artists, including Alberto Burri, Jiří Kolář, Antoni Tàpies, Mohan Samant, John Latham, and Ivo Gattin went further still, to invoke the entropy of matter and, more specifically, the outright destruction related to the traumatic events and lingering ruins of the postwar landscape.

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