2019 Masters Exhibit

The stories of the artists included in the annual Masters Exhibit have always been at the forefront of a modern shift in the course of art history, and the works themselves can often be seen as symbolizing existence in another era. This year’s iteration is rooted in a survey of the work of ten artists and those narratives. It is centered around the life of Mary Abbott (1921-2019), whose oeuvre we have a unique and timely opportunity to present with some thorough scope. A biographical focus perhaps brings even more intimacy to the gallery experience of the seminal works of Abbott’s and other artists’ long-developing careers.

While household-name status has eluded much of this roster including Abbott, they were shapers of a new visual legacy. Theirs is the American generation that lived the vast majority of their lives in the 20th century, through world wars, major social and political change, and a paradigm shift in the meaning of art. They approached a philosophical need for change, investigation, and expression with brushes in hand–developing ideas parallel to the other thinkers of their time, but through purely visual means. Abbott’s dynamic brushstrokes, Fine’s mixture of mark and collage, Little’s exuberant palette–all masterfully serve an expressive end at a time when symbolism and representation still prevailed.

Many of the midcentury works in this exhibit center around the advent of Abstract Expressionism, and as the movement name suggests, convey the emotion, action, and energy that informed their creation. It is important to remember, however, that while a painting can be categorized and placed at a moment in history, no artist is accurately defined by one movement of which they were a part. Most adapt their style, media, and approach to subject matter in each body of work, often more than once a year, and even from painting to painting. We cannot let the solidification of history freeze an artist in one position amid a career spanning decades. The artists of the 6th Annual Masters Exhibit each progressed through personal eras of representation, abstraction, gesture, and geometry, even as they absorbed and embodied the age they inhabited. Mary Abbott stands as our central example of the overlooked modern master, reexamined after her death just this year. The goal is simply to bring to light Abbott’s foresight and merit, contextualized by those shared qualities in a selection of her peers also working with the imperatives of color and expression. The dynamic stories of these artists are seen with each painting as a snapshot of context, their impact strengthened by the collective substance of the exhibit.