Henry Art Gallery

University of Washington / Seattle, WA




Coming to Life, The Figure in American Art 1955-1965

February 25 through June 13, 1999


Coming to Life, The Figure in American Art 1955-1965, is the third and final exhibition in the Henry Art Gallery's series focusing on the figure in an since mid-century. Coming to Life explores the pivotal ten-year period from 1955 to 1965 that marked significant shifts in artistic notions about and response to the body. The work of more than fifty artists from the Henry's collection and private and public collections from across the U.S, will be presented in the North Galleries from February 25 through June 13, 1999. Included are:

Diane Arbus, Richard Artschwager, Romare Bearden, Wallace Berman, Elmer Bischoff, Charles Brittin, Joan Brown, Harry Callahan, Bruce Conner, Roy DeCarava, Jay DeFeo, Willem de Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, Lee Friedlander, Leon Golub, Philip Guston, Grace Hartigan, Wally Hedrick, George Herms, Jess, William Klein, Lee Krasner, Marisol, Bruce McGaw, Peter Moore, Robert Morris, Claes Oldenburg, Nathan Oliveira, Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, James Rosenquist, Lucas Samaras, Carolee Schneemann, George Segal, Aaron Siskind, Jack Smith, Frederick Sommer, Robert Stanley, Andy Warhol, Robert Watts, Garry Winogrand

A timeline of social attitudes and current events loosely covering the ten-year period will be installed in the exhibition to underscore contemporary events and their connection to the artists' milieu.

The period from the late 1950s and the early 1960s saw extraordinary social change and the evolving ideas of artists were no less exceptional." says Senior Curator Sheryl Conkelton. "This is acknowledged by many young artists working right now, in their reaching back to art from this period in order to question or recontextualize issues today. The shift from expressionist painting to "happenings" and Pop commodification reveals the body as the central arena for the acting out of new ideas during these ten years. This exhibition explores the new treatments artists applied to the body and the atomized, energized and sexualized imagery that comprised a new American avant garde."

The exhibition is organized with attention to chronology so parallel ideas and motifs can be seen in works from different parts of the country. The ten-year period between 1955 and 1965 was one of extraordinary artistic experimentation, and the human body served as an important arena reflecting changing approaches. Coming to Life starts with an examination of how the expressionist representation of the body in the 1950s gave way to a variety of artistic notions of the body, culminating in the radical shifts embodied in the Performance work of the mid-1960s. The exhibition traces a social and philosophical shift toward an avant garde approach to the body.

Artists such as Andy Warhol and George Segal used the body to critique contemporary consumerist culture removed from its emotional dimension--in what came to be known as Pop Art. Concurrently, in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Funk Art presented a West Coast flip side to Pop Art with highly sexualized work that alluded to the body through objects, exemplified by works by Wallace Berman and George Herms in the exhibition. Another thread in work of the period can be characterized by the fragmentation of the body, seen in the works of Romare Bearden and Jay DeFeo, whose work reflects a surrealist edge.

By the mid 1960s a number of artist were pursuing forms in which the body presented new relationships to the viewer. The exhibition includes a number of works of art that were part of performances as well as documentation by Peter Moore of early performance works by Yoke One, Carolee Schneemann and Robert Rauchenberg. The body has become active and is often no longer removed from the viewer through time. Artistic media is re-evaluated for its ability to convey the artist's participation. Carolee Schneemann's performance works Eye Body, 1963, and Meat Joy; 1964, and their documentation, offer an opportunity to understand the often shocking and powerfully influential impact of this period in the work of artists in the last thirty years.

Support for Coming to Life has been provided by Henry Art Gallery Special Exhibition

Read more about the Henry Art Gallery in Resource Library Magazine

From top to bottom: Romare Bearden, Evening 9:10, 461 Lenox Avenue, 1964, photomechanical reproduction, synthetic polymer and pencil on paperboard, 49 x 64 inches, courtesy Bearden Foundation/ACA Galleries, New York, NY, © Romare Bearden Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA, N.Y.; James Rosenquist, Vestigal Appendage, 1962, oil on canvas, 72 x 93 1/4 inches, courtesy Panza Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, © James Rosenquist, Licensed by VAGA, N.Y.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 9/20/10

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