Spilling Over: Painting Color in the 1960s

29 March–31 July 2019

Exhibition Overview

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Emma Amos, Baby, 1966. Oil on canvas, 46 1/2 × 51 in. © Emma Amos; courtesy of the artist and RYAN LEE Gallery, New York.

This exhibition gathers paintings from the 1960s and early 1970s that inventively use bold, saturated, and even hallucinatory color to activate perception. During this period, many artists adopted acrylic paint—a newly available, plastic-based medium—and explored its expansive technical possibilities and wider range of hues. Color Field painters poured paint and stained unprimed canvas, dramatizing painting’s materiality and visual force. Painters associated with Op art deployed pattern, geometric arrangement, and intense color combinations to emphasize that vision is a commingling of physical response and unconscious association. At the same historical moment, an emerging generation of artists of color and women explored color’s capacity to articulate new questions about perception, specifically its relation to race, gender, and the coding of space. The exhibition looks to the divergent ways color can be equally a formal problem and a political statement.

Drawn entirely from the Whitney’s collection, Spilling Over includes important recently acquired works by Emma Amos and Kay WalkingStick, as well as paintings that entered the collection soon after they were made, by artists such as Alvin Loving, Ellsworth Kelly, Miriam Schapiro, and Frank Stella, among others. The title comes from a quote by artist Bob Thompson, whose work is also presented. He said, “I paint many paintings that tell me slowly that I have something inside of me that is just bursting, twisting, sticking, spilling over to get out. Out into souls and mouths and eyes that have never seen before.” Spilling Over demonstrates how painting retained an urgency for artists who wanted to see anew.

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