Eric Firestone Gallery is pleased to present “Different Shapes” – a group exhibition of painting and sculpture from the 1960s and 1970s. The exhibition explores the spectrum of radical and playful ways that artists reacted to hierarchal ideas about modernism and art making. Rigid ideas about the picture plane and the privileging of a monumental signature style became arenas that artists could fight against. The true history of the post-World War II art world is full of significant artists who were erased from the canon because they did not fit neatly into stylistic categories. This exhibition is about these often-overlooked artists.
In “Different Shapes,” artists disrupt the frame, create shaped canvases, blur the boundaries between painting, sculpture, and craft, utilize Non-Western sources, work with everyday materials, and even reject the idea of authorship. The exhibition also becomes a window into lesser-known aspects of the exhibition history of seminal galleries of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, such as André Emmerich, Sidney Janis Gallery, Max Hutchinson, Park Place Gallery, and the Reuben Gallery.
In the late 1960s, Walter Hopps, newly appointed director of the Corcoran in Washington, D.C., created galleries with 20-foot ceilings. He invited Sam Gilliam, Ed McGowin, and Rockne Krebs to be part of a three-person show. Faced with an enormous atrium to install his work, Gilliam began to explore taking paintings off the stretcher bars, draping and folding canvases, and working with the architecture of the space. His paper works reflect this unique staining, shaping, and folding process.
Both Ed McGowin and Sylvia Stone were included in the influential traveling exhibition “Plastic Presence,” which originated at the Jewish Museum in 1969. McGowin is known for his vacuum formed plastic relief sculpture, but in 1970 he launched a conceptual project called “Name Change.” He legally changed his name twelve times, creating distinct bodies of work under these different personas. It was a way of disrupting expectations about the ways that artists and art history should develop. McGowin’s sculpture “Whitney” was re-titled after it was exhibited as “Squinches” in the 1968 Whitney Annual. The 1968 Annual also included a sculpture by Peter Agostini. Agostini’s “Swells,” rarely seen today, are monumental plaster sculptures created from molds of quotidian objects like inner tubes.
Sidney Geist’s totemic sculptures and Joe Overstreet’s suspended Mandala paintings fuse modernist painting and sculpture with non-western sources, such as Oceanic and Native American art — taking geometries off the wall and into space. Charles Hinman created hybrids between painting and sculpture with his shaped constructions. His hard-edged shaped canvases became known in the mid-1960s with exhibitions at Sidney Janis Gallery. Miriam Schapiro, who was the first woman to show at André Emmerich Gallery, shifted away from gestural abstraction when she moved to California in the late 1960s. She – like Bernard Kirschenbaum – was at the vanguard of using computer imaging to plan the compositions and shapes of her hard-edged geometric paintings.
Several artists in this show utilize the repeated shapes and geometric forms associated with Minimalism, while also breaking with its purity. The sculptures of Sylvia Stone begin with architectural concerns of Constructivism and Minimalism but have a dynamic syncopation and unexpected juxtapositions of color. The pyramidal forms and angles of Cris Gianakos’s resin sculptures suggest funerary objects or the passage to an afterlife. Although the shapes are pristine, the exteriors are rough-hewn.
Bernard Kirschenbaum was an architect known for designing geodesic domes, including the first one built for residential use, for his client, the artist Susan Weil, who then became his wife. After being invited by the Park Place Gallery to show his model domes, he launched a sculpture career, showing frequently at both Paula Cooper Gallery and Max Hutchinson Gallery. Michael Boyd was another Max Hutchinson artist whose work was characterized by elegantly articulated shapes and pristine color gradients, and affected by his work as a graphic designer. However, he was also responding to natural phenomena and the landscape of Ithaca, New York, where he moved in 1969.
Martha Edelheit was a member of the Tenth Street artist-run space, the Reuben Gallery, in the 1950s. She, like members Jim Dine, Allan Kaprow, Claes Oldenberg, and Robert Whitman, were pushing at the boundaries of visual art through Happenings and experimental objects. It was there that Edelheit exhibited her “extension” paintings, which break the frame of the work and utilize utilitarian objects.
Philip Pavia, the sculptor who was instrumental in founding The Club, used repeated shapes in his sculpture and works on paper, but distributed them across the space in an almost off-hand manner to suggest an elegiac reflection on post-war culture and Minimalism. Jorge Fick, who attended Black Mountain College and then moved to New Mexico, was affected by his study of Zen Buddhism to seek a poetic, anti-heroic visual metaphor for the energy of nature – unlike contemporaries working on a massive scale. The diverse voices in “Different Shapes” and the movement away from assumed definitions and hierarchies herald a more Postmodernist art world to come.