Black in the Abstract, Part 2: Soft Curves/Hard Edges

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston, United States
25 Jan 2014 - 23 Mar 2014


Conceived as the companion to Black in the Abstract, Part 1: Epistrophy, which explored the fragmentation of the figurative as well as the loose and expansive nature of abstraction, this section chronicles the history of black artists whose work relies on the drama of restraint.  Drawing upon the historical framework of minimalist impulses in painting, this exhibition investigates the interwoven histories of black artists working within the monochromatic and geometric or “hard edge” impulses from the 1960s to the present.

Despite their virtual invisibility in the field of abstraction, black artists have engaged in this tradition for over six decades. Their adherence to the genre despite their lack of acknowledgment has empowered these artists to reach beyond the conventional and conceptually expand the discourse of their engagement with this genre. In bringing together three generations of artists in dialogue with one another, the exhibition highlights the trajectory of this practice as well as the conscious and unconscious lineages that emerge. From the deeply saturated 1968 monochromatic Yellow on Yellow by Felrath Hines to the pulsating binaries of Jennie C. Jones’ acoustic paintings, the very nature of these works are preoccupied with the infusion of movement within the two dimensional frame and the inherent dynamic interplay between materiality, texture, sound, movement, and cultural acuity.  The exhibition also lays bare the tension surrounding painting then and now–the interrogation of its history and traditions as well as the willingness of artists to destroy, reinvent, and reframe the practice over time, all the while finding an uneasy reconciliation of their presence within the history of its tradition.

Black in the Abstract, Part 2: Hard Edges/Soft Curves features seventeen artists: Derrick Adams, McArthur Binion, Nathaniel Donnett, Sam Gilliam, David Hammons, Felrath Hines, Rashid Johnson, Jennie C. Jones, Simone Leigh, James Little, Rodney McMillian, Nadine Robinson, Leslie Smith III, Cullen Washington, Stanley Whitney, Jack Whitten, and Brenna Youngblood.


Black in the Abstract, Part 2: Soft Curves/Hard Edges is one in a six-part series of exhibitions organized under Outside the Lines. Presented on the occasion of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston’s 65th anniversary, Outside the Lines is conceived as an evolving dialogue on contemporary abstraction. The first three exhibitions—UIA (Unlikely Iterations of the Abstract)Outside the Lines, and Black in the Abstract, Part 1: Epistrophy—opened October 31, 2013. The final three presentations—Rites of SpringPainting: A Love Story, and Black in the Abstract, Part 2: Hard Edges/Soft Curves—open in January over three weekends.

From recent paintings embracing more traditional definitions of abstraction to multimedia works that challenge such notions, Outside the Lines showcases the Museum’s commitment to chronicling shifts in contemporary art practices by presenting some of the most compelling work being made today and revisiting the historical foundations to which they speak. CAMH’s director Bill Arning and full curatorial staff—Valerie Cassel Oliver and Dean Daderko—each organized two exhibitions; these six complete visions are mounted in two rounds. Outside the Lines is installed in both the Brown Foundation and the Zilkha galleries, uniting the whole museum in one thematic exhibition for the first time. Constructed as a dynamic, diverse, and innovative curatorial project, Outside the Lines offers a variety of vibrant visual experiences and perspectives on abstraction in the present moment.

Hearkening back to the popular CAMH exhibition Abstract Painting, Once Removed (organized by Dana Friis-Hansen, 1998) and the curatorial experimentation in Changing Perspectives (1995), Outside the Lines opened October 31 with three presentations: UIA (Unlikely Iterations of the Abstract) organized by Arning, Black in the Abstract, Part 1: Epistrophy organized by Cassel Oliver, and Outside the Lines organized by Daderko. Staggered openings in January 2014 for the remaining three exhibitions in the series—Rites of Spring by Daderko, Painting: A Love Story by Arning, and Black in the Abstract, Part 2: Hard Edges/Soft Curves by Cassel Oliver—invite audiences to re-visit the evolving exhibition and consider abstract painting from multiple vantage points. Though installed in dedicated spaces, these exhibitions converse with each other. The full complement of shows will be contextualized within a single catalogue to be published in 2014.



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