Abstract Art
Definition, History, Movements, Types, Collections, Artists.

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Harmony Squares With Concentric
Rings (1913) By Wassily Kandinsky
a pioneer of Non-Objective art.

Black Circle (1913) Kasimir Malevich.
State Russian Museum, St Petersburg.

Abstract Art: A General Guide
Definition, Types, History, Characteristics


What is the Idea Behind Abstract Art?
Origins and History
Stone Age Abstract Painting
From Academic Realism to Abstraction
Kandinsky & Expressionism Demonstrate The Power of Colour
Cubism Rejects Perspective and Pictorial Depth
Suprematism and De Stijl Introduce New Geometric Shapes
Surrealist and Organic Abstraction
Abstract Expressionism - More Colour, No More Geometry
Europe: Art Informel & Tachisme
Op-Art: The New Geometric Abstraction
Postmodernist Abstraction
Famous Collections


Abstract Painters
Abstract Paintings: Top 100
Abstract Art Movements
Abstract Sculpture (1900-2000)
Abstract Sculptors (1900-2000)

Black Abstraction (1927)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
By Georgia O'Keeffe.
A wonderful autobiographical
example of biomorphic abstraction.

Composition With Blue And Yellow.
(1932) Piet Mondrian.
Philadelphia Museum Of Art.
Neo-Plasticism/De Stijl.

For an guide to the aesthetic and
classification issues concerning
fine/decorative/applied arts, see:
Art Definition, Meaning.

Definition and Meaning

The term 'abstract art' - also called "non-objective art", "non-figurative", "non-representational", "geometric abstraction", or "concrete art" - is a rather vague umbrella term for any painting or sculpture which does not portray recognizable objects or scenes. However, as we shall see, there is no clear consensus on the definition, types or aesthetic significance of abstract art. Picasso thought that there was no such thing, while some art critics take the view that all art is abstract - because, for instance, no painting can hope to be more than a crude summary (abstraction) of what the painter sees. Even mainstream commentators sometimes disagree over whether a canvas should be labelled "expressionist" or "abstract" - take for example the watercolour Ship on Fire (1830, Tate), and the oil painting Snow Storm - Steam Boat off a Harbour's Mouth (1842, Tate), both by JMW Turner (1775-1851). A similar example is Water-Lilies (1916-20, National Gallery, London) by Claude Monet (1840-1926). Also, there is a sliding scale of abstraction: from semi-abstract to wholly abstract. So even though the theory is relatively clear - abstract art is detached from reality - the practical task of separating abstract from non-abstract can be much more problematical.

What is the Idea Behind Abstract Art?

The basic premise of abstraction - incidentally, a key issue of aesthetics - is that the formal qualities of a painting (or sculpture) are just as important (if not more so) than its representational qualities.

Let's start with a very simple illustration. A picture may contain a very bad drawing of a man, but if its colours are very beautiful, it may nevertheless strike us as being a beautiful picture. This shows how a formal quality (colour) can override a representational one (drawing).

On the other hand, a photorealist painting of a terraced house may demonstrate exquisite representationalism, but the subject matter, colour scheme and general composition may be totally boring.

The philosophical justification for appreciating the value of a work of art's formal qualities stems from Plato's statement that:

"straight lines and circles are... not only beautiful... but eternally and absolutely beautiful."

In essence, Plato means that non-naturalistic images (circles, squares, triangles and so on) possess an absolute, unchanging beauty. Thus a painting can be appreciated for its line and colour alone - it doesn't need to depict a natural object or scene. The French painter, lithographer and art theorist Maurice Denis (1870-1943) was getting at the same thing when he wrote: "Remember that a picture - before being a war horse or a nude woman... is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order."

Some abstract artists explain themselves by saying that they want to create the visual equivalent of a piece of music, which can be appreciated purely for itself, without having to ask the question "what is this painting of?" Whistler, for instance, used to give some of his paintings musical titles like Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea (1871, Tate Collection). (See also: Art Evaluation: How to Appreciate Art.)



Types of Abstract Art

To keep things simple, we can divide abstract art into six basic types:

Colour-Related or Light-Related
Emotional or Intuitional

Some of these types are less abstract than others, but all are concerned with separating art from reality.

Curvilinear Abstract Art

This type of curvilinear abstraction is strongly associated with Celtic Art, which employed a range of abstract motifs including knots (eight basic types), interlace patterns, and spirals (including the triskele, or the triskelion). These motifs were not original to the Celts - many other early cultures had been utilizing these Celtic designs for centuries: see for instance the spiral engravings at the Neolithic Passage Tomb at Newgrange in Co Meath, created some 2000 years before the appearance of the Celts. However, it is fair to say that Celtic designers breathed new life into these patterns, making them much more intricate and sophisticated in the process. These patterns later re-emerged as decorative elements in early illuminated manuscripts (c.600-1000 CE). Later they returned during the 19th century Celtic Revival Movement, and the influential 20th century Art Nouveau movement: notably in book-covers, textile, wallpaper and chintz designs by the likes of William Morris (1834-96) and Arthur Mackmurdo (1851-1942). Curvilinear abstraction is also exemplified by the "infinite pattern", a widespread feature of Islamic Art.

Colour-Related or Light-Related Abstract Art

This type is exemplified in works by Turner and Monet, that use colour (or light) in such a way as to detach the work of art from reality, as the object dissolves in a swirl of pigment. Two instances of Turner's style of expressive abstraction have already been mentioned, to which we can add his Interior at Petworth (1837, Tate Collection). Other examples include the final sequence of Water Lily paintings by Claude Monet (1840-1926), The Talisman (1888, Musee d'Orsay, Paris) by Paul Serusier (1864-1927) leader of Les Nabis, and several Fauvist works of Henri Matisse (1869-1954). Several of Kandinsky's expressionist pictures painted during his time with Der Blaue Reiter come very close to abstraction, as does Deer in the Wood II (1913-14, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karsruhe) by his colleague Franz Marc (1880-1916). The Czech painter Frank Kupka (1871-1957) produced some of the first highly coloured abstract paintings, which influenced Robert Delaunay (1885-1941) who also relied on colour in his Cubist-inspired style of Orphism. Colour-related abstraction re-emerged in the late 1940s and 50s in the form of Colour Field Painting, developed by Mark Rothko (1903-70) and Barnett Newman (1905-70). In 1950s France, a parallel type of colour-related abstract painting sprang up, known as Lyrical Abstraction.

Geometric Abstraction

This type of intellectual abstract art emerged from about 1908 onwards. An early rudimentary form was Cubism, specifically analytical Cubism - which rejected linear perspective and the illusion of spatial depth in a painting, in order to focus on its 2-D aspects. Geometric Abstraction is also known as Concrete Art and Non-Objective Art. As you might expect, it is characterized by non-naturalistic imagery, typically geometrical shapes such as circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, and so forth. In a sense - by containing absolutely no reference to, or association with, the natural world - it is the purest form of abstraction. One might say that concrete art is to abstraction, what veganism is to vegetarianism. Geometrical abstraction is exemplified by Black Circle (1913, State Russian Museum, St Petersburg) painted by Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935) (founder of Suprematism); Broadway Boogie-Woogie (1942, MoMA, New York) by Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) (founder of Neo-Plasticism); and Composition VIII (The Cow) (1918, MoMA, New York) by Theo Van Doesburg (1883-1931) (founder of De Stijl and Elementarism). Other examples include the Homage to the Square pictures by Josef Albers (1888-1976), and Op-Art originated by Victor Vasarely (1906-1997).

Emotional or Intuitional Abstract Art

This type of intuitional art embraces a mix of styles, whose common theme is a naturalistic tendency. This naturalism is visible in the type of shapes and colours employed. Unlike Geometric Abstraction, which is almost anti-nature, intuitional abstraction often evokes nature, but in less representational ways. Two important sources for this type of abstract art are: Organic Abstraction (also called Biomorphic abstraction) and Surrealism. Arguably, the most celebrated painter specializing in this type of art was the Russian-born Mark Rothko - see: Mark Rothko's Paintings (1938-70). Other examples include canvases by Kandinsky like Composition No.4 (1911, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen), and Composition VII (1913, Tretyakov Gallery); the typical Teller, Gabel und Nabel (1923, Private Collection) by Jean Arp (1887-1966), Woman (1934, Private Collection) by Joan Miro (1893-1983), Inscape: Psychological Morphology no 104 (1939, Private Collection) by Matta (1911-2002); and Infinite Divisibility (1942, Allbright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo) by Yves Tanguy (1900-55). In sculpture, this type of abstraction is exemplified by The Kiss (1907, Kunsthalle, Hamburg) by Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957); Mother and Child (1934, Tate) by Barbara Hepworth(1903-1975); Giant Pip (1937, Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou) by Jean Arp; Three Standing Figures (1953, Guggenheim Museum, Venice) by Henry Moore (1898-1986).

Gestural Abstract Art

This is a form of abstract expressionism, where the process of making the painting becomes more important than usual. Paint may be applied in unusual ways, brushwork is often very loose, and rapid. Famous American exponents of gestural painting include Jackson Pollock (1912-56), the inventor of Action-Painting, and his wife Lee Krasner (1908-84) who inspired him with her own form of drip-painting; Willem de Kooning (1904-97), famous for his Woman series of works; and Robert Motherwell (1912-56), noted for his Elegy to the Spanish Republic series. In Europe, this form is exemplified by Tachisme, as well as by the Cobra Group, notably Karel Appel (1921-2006).

Minimalist Abstract Art

This type of abstraction was a back-to-basics sort of avant-garde art, stripped of all external references and associations. It is what you see - nothing else. It often takes a geometrical form, and is dominated by sculptors, although it also includes some great painters. For more information on minimalist art, see below ("Postmodernist Abstraction").


Origins and History

Stone Age Abstract Paintings

As far as we can tell, abstract art first began some 70,000 years ago with prehistoric engravings: namely, two pieces of rock engraved with abstract geometric patterns, found in the Blombos Cave in South Africa. This was followed by the abstract red-ochre dots and hand stencils discovered among the El Castillo Cave paintings, dated to 39,000 BCE, the Neanderthal engraving at Gorham's Cave, Gibraltar, and the club-shaped claviform image among the Altamira Cave paintings (c.34,000 BCE). Thereafter, abstract symbols became the predominant form of Paleolithic cave art, outnumbering figurative images by 2:1. See: Prehistoric Abstract Signs.

From Academic Realism to Abstraction

Up until the late 19th century, most painting and sculpture followed the traditional principles of Classical Realism, as taught in the great Academies of Europe. These principles laid down that art's first duty was to provide a recognizable scene or object. However much affected by the demands of style or medium, a work of art had to imitate or represent external reality. However, during the last quarter of the 19th century, things began to change. Impressionist art demonstrated that the strict academic style of naturalistic painting was no longer the only authentic way of doing things. Then, during the period 1900-1930, developments in other areas of modern art provided additional techniques (involving colour, a rejection of 3-D perspective, and new shapes), which would be used to further the quest for abstraction.

Artists Start To Move Away From Reality

The first of the major modern art movements to subvert the academic style of classical realism was Impressionism (fl.1870-1880), whose palette was often decidedly non-naturalistic, although its art remained firmly and clearly derived from the real world, even if Claude Monet's final work on his Water Lilies genre seemed more akin to abstraction. The emergence of abstract art was also influenced by the Art Nouveau movement (c.1890-1914).

Kandinsky, Expressionism & Fauvism Demonstrate The Power of Colour

The use of colour and shape to move the spectator was paramount in the development of abstract art. Impressionism, including the variants of Neo-Impressionist Pointillism and Post-Impressionism, had already drawn attention to the power of colour, but German Expressionism made it the cornerstone of painting. One of its leaders, Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) published a book entitled 'On The Spirtual In Art' (1911), which became the foundation text of abstract painting.

Kandinsky was convinced by the emotional properties of shape, line and above all, colour in painting. (He had an abnormal sensitivity to colour, which he could hear as well as see, a condition called synaesthesia.) He believed a painting should not be analyzed intellectually but allowed to reach those parts of the brain that connect with music.

Even so, he warned that serious art must not be lead by the desire for abstraction into becoming mere decoration. Most German Expressionists (eg. Ernst Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Max Ernst, Alexei Jawlensky, Oskar Kokoschka, Franz Marc, August Macke and Max Beckmann) were not abstract painters, but their vivid palette - along with Kandinsky's theoretical writings - alerted other more abstract-inclined artists to the power of colour as a means of achieving their goals.

The parallel Parisian avant-garde style of Fauvism (1905-08) merely underlined the effect of colour with works like Red Studio (1911, MoMA, NY) by Henri Matisse.


Cubism Rejects Perspective and Pictorial Depth

Cubism (1908-14) was a reaction against the decorative prettiness of Impressionism. Picasso (1881-1973) and Georges Braque (1882-1963) developed this new style in stages: first, proto-type Cubism (see Picasso's semi-abstract Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907, MoMA, NY); then Analytical Cubism (see Nude Descending a Staircase No.2, 1912, Philadelphia Museum of Art) by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968); then Synthetic Cubism, which was more collage-oriented. Their basic concept was to move away from the pretty but trivial art of Impressionism, towards a more intellectual form of art which explored new methods of portraying reality.

In particular, they rejected the academic method of representing reality through the use of linear perspective (depth) to create the usual three-dimensional effect in a painting. Instead, they kept everything on a two-dimensional flat plane, upon which they laid out different 'views' of the same object: a process similar to taking photographs of an object from different angles, then cutting up the photos and pasting them on a flat surface. This method of using a flat surface to depict 3-D reality, rocked art to its foundations. Although most Cubist works were still derived from objects or scenes in the real world, and thus cannot be considered to be wholly abstract, the movement's rejection of traditional perspective completely undermined natural-realism in art, and thus opened the door to pure abstraction.

Cubist-inspired abstract sculptors include: Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), who was also influenced by African and Oriental art.
Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918), who used Cubist devices to represent movement, and Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973).

For an early 20th century abstract style of painting which attempted to blend Cubist composition with colour and music, see: Orphism. A British pre-war art movement which was strongly influenced by the Cubist idiom, was Vorticism (1913-14), founded by Percy Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957).

The Italian Futurism movement (1909-13), founded by Marinetti (1876-1944) and exemplified by Gino Severini (1883-1966) and Giacomo Balla (1871-1958), was also influenced by Cubism, and in turn inspired numerous painters with its emphasis on movement and technology. In sculpture, Futurism's greatest effect was on the development of Kinetic art, influencing abstract sculptors like Naum Gabo (1890-1977) and Alexander Calder (1898-1976) (noted for his mobiles).

NOTE: "Tubism", invented by Fernand Leger (1881-1955), was a form of Cubism which used cylindrical and spherical pieces - rather than Cubism's flat overlapping pieces - and included numerous machine-like motifs, reflecting Leger's futuristic faith in technology. See, for example, works like: Soldiers Playing at Cards (1917, Kroller-Muller State Museum, Otterlo); The Mechanic (1920, National Gallery of Canada); Three Women (Le Grand Dejeuner) (1921, Museum of Modern Art, New York).

Suprematism and De Stijl Introduce New Geometric Shapes

Traditional fine art painting and sculpture relies on shapes taken from the real world, of which there are limitless examples. In contrast, abstract artists are obliged to rely on artificial, non-natural forms. Thus abstract art is typically concerned with the production of various geometric shapes. And the size and character of these shapes, their relationship to each other, as well as the colours used throughout the work, become the defining motifs of abstraction.

Russian Suprematism

The Russian abstract art movement known as Suprematism, which was named by its leader Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935) for its assertion of the supremacy of sensation in art, appeared in 1915. No doubt influenced by Kandinsky who had already begun to produce a range of concretist works, Malevich produced a series of outstanding avant-garde abstract paintings - rectangular blocks of plain colour floating on a white background - which were decades ahead of his time. He saw them as successors to the traditional icon-imagery of the Russian Orthodox Church in the flat Byzantine style of Antiquity. In 1927, his Suprematist theory was published in a book entitled Die Gegenstandlose Welt (The Non-Objective World). Lyubov Popova (1889-1924), along with Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956) considered one of the co-founders of the Russian style of Constructivism (a school concerned with space, new materials, 3-D form, as well as science and social reform) was another important member of the Suprematist movement. Another interesting Russian art movement which introduced new imagery was Rayonism (or Luchism) (1912-14), founded by Mikhail Larionov (1881-1964) and Natalya Goncharova (1881-1962). Abstract sculptors who were influenced by Suprematist/Constructivist ideas included Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943) and Naum Gabo (1890-1977).

De Stijl

De Stijl was the name of a Dutch design and aesthetics journal and avant-garde art movement, devoted to geometric abstraction (non-objective art), which was founded and led by Theo Van Doesburg (1883-1931). Its leading figure was Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), who is famous for his series of simple rectangular grids, using only black, white and primary colours - a style he called Neo-Plasticism (Nieuwe Beelding). One of the most influential pioneers of concrete art during the period 1920-1944, he developed his precise geometric style as a counter-statement to the emotional chaos and uncertainty of the first half of the twentieth century. Involved with the abstract group Cercle et Carre (1929-31), as well as the Abstraction-Creation Group (1930-6), he moved to New York in 1938, and was allegedly the first painter to work to gramaphone music.

Van Doesburg was less dogmatic, introducing a more relaxed form of Neo-Plasticism, called Elementarism. He was also responsible, in 1930, for coining the term "Concrete Art". Sadly he died in 1931, but his ideas were continued not only by students of the Bauhaus design school (where he had lectured), but also by the Abstraction-Creation group - led by the Belgian artist Georges Vantongerloo (1886-1965) and the French painters Jean Helion (1904-87) and Auguste Herbin (1882-1960). Other group members included the cream of European abstractionists, such as Jean Arp (1886-1966), Naum Gabo (1890-1977), El Lissitzky (1890-1941), Antoine Pevsner (1886-1962), Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) and Ben Nicholson (1894-1982). The Swiss ex-Bauhaus architect, sculptor and designer Max Bill (1908-94) was another follower who helped to promote the genre in Switzerland, Italy, Argentina and Brazil.


Surrealist and Organic Abstraction

In parallel with the development of geometric-style concretism, during the 1920s and 1930s, exponents of Surrealism began to produce a range of fantasy-like, quasi-naturalistic images. The leading exemplars of this style of Biomorphic/Organic Abstraction were Jean Arp and Joan Miro, neither of whom - as their many preparatory sketches confirm - relied on the technique of automatism. Their fellow Surrealist Salvador Dali (1904-89) also produced some extraordinary paintings like The Persistence of Memory (1931, MoMA, NY) and Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (1936, Philadelphia Museum of Art). Jean Arp was also an active sculptor who specialized in Organic Abstraction, as did the English sculptors Henry Moore (1898-1986) and Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975). (See: Modern British Sculpture 1930-70.) A number of European abstract artists later sought sanctuary in America, where they encountered and influenced a new generation of indigenous abstract painters. These influential emigrants included painters like Hans Hofmann (1880-1966), Max Ernst (1891-1976), Andre Masson (1896-1987), Arshile Gorky (1904-48), Yves Tangy (1900-55) and others. As it happened, despite the controversy surrounding New York's Armory Show in 1913, the city was developing a keen interest in abstraction. The Museum of Modern Art was founded in 1929, and the Museum of Non-Objective Painting (later renamed the Samuel R Guggenheim Museum), in 1939.

Note: For two collectors of abstract painting and sculpture of the first half of the 20th century, see: Solomon Guggenheim (1861-1949) and Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979).

Note: For avant-garde abstraction in Britain (c.1939-75) please see: St Ives School.

Abstract Expressionism - More Colour, No More Geometry

Although post-war European artists maintained their interest in abstract art through the Salon des Realites Nouvelles in Paris, by 1945 the centre of modern art had shifted to New York, where the avant-garde was represented by the New York School of Abstract Expressionism. Arising out of the Great Depression and World War II, this movement, never associated with a coherent program as such, was led by Jackson Pollock (1912-56), Mark Rothko (1903-70), Willem De Kooning (1904-97), Clyfford Still (1904-80), Barnett Newman (1905-70) and Adolph Gottlieb (1903-74). The next generation included painters such as Robert Motherwell. The name of the movement was coined by Robert Coates, art critic of the New Yorker. Offshoots include Pollock's 'Action Painting' and Rothko's 'Colour Field Painting', and the curious 'Abstract Impressionism' of Philip Guston (1913-80).

Abstract Expressionist Painting remains a vague term - often confusingly applied to artists who are neither truly abstract, nor expressionist - which describes a form of abstract painting (non-figurative, non-naturalistic) in which colour takes precedence over shape; the latter being no longer geometric. Early works in this style typically filled large scale canvases, whose size was designed to overwhelm spectators and draw them into another world. The preoccupation of abstract expressionists with visual effects, especially the impact of colour, was a reflection of their main goal - to involve and explore basic human emotions. Thus an abstract expressionist painting is best felt intuitively rather than understood: the question posed being typically: 'what does it make you feel?' - rather than, 'what is it saying?'

It must be emphasized that this was a wide movement, encompassing differing styles, including (as mentioned) works that were either semi- or non-abstract, as well as those characterized by the way paint was applied, such as Jackson Pollock's paintings (dripped and poured), and Willem de Kooning's works (gestural brushwork). For two interesting early works that illustrate the differing styles of these two artists, see: Seated Woman (1944, Metropolitan Museum of Art) by Willem de Kooning and Pasiphae (1943, Metropolitan) by Jackson Pollock. The fact that it was the first major art movement born in the USA, gave it added weight and significance: at least in the minds of critics.

Later, Abstract Expressionism spawned a number of individual styles under the umbrella of Post-painterly abstraction, an anti-gesturalist trend. These individual styles included: Hard-Edge Painting, Colour Stain Painting, Washington Colour Movement, American Lyrical Abstraction, and Shaped Canvas. Abstract Expressionism also provoked avant-garde responses from several other artists including Cy Twombly (1928-2011), whose calligraphic scribbling is part-drawing, part-graffiti; and the Californian abstract sculptor Mark Di Suvero (b.1933) noted for his large scale iron/steel sculptures.

Europe: Art Informel, Tachisme & Cobra Group Gesturalism

In Europe, a new art movement known as Art Informel emerged during the late 1940s. Seen as the European version of abstract expressionism, it was in reality an umbrella movement with a number of sub-variants. These mini-movements included: (1) Tachisme, a style of abstract painting marked by splotches and dabs of colour, was promoted as the French answer to American Abstract Expressionism. A key influence was the avant-garde American artist Mark Tobey (1890-1976), whose all-over calligraphic painting style anticipated that of Pollock. Important members included Jean Fautrier (1898-1964), Georges Mathieu (1921-2012), Pierre Soulages (b.1919), and the Portuguese artist Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1908-92) as well as the American abstract expressionist Sam Francis (1923-94). (2) The avant-garde Cobra Group, which practised the gestural or "action painting" style of American Abstract Expressionism. It was founded by painters, sculptors and graphic artists from the Danish group Host, the Dutch group Reflex, and the Belgian Revolutionary Surrealist Group, including: Asger Jorn (1914-73), the Belgian writer Christian Dotremont (1922-79), Pierre Alechinsky (b.1927), Karel Appel (1921-2006) and Constant (C.A. Nieuwenhuys) (1920-2005). Pol Bury (1922-2005) was also a member, but in 1953 he quit painting to explore kinetic sculpture. (3) Lyrical Abstraction, a quieter, more harmonious style of Art Informel. Leading members included: Wols (Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze) (1913-51), Hans Hartung (1904-89), Jean-Michel Atlan (1913-60), Pierre Soulages (b.1919), Georges Mathieu (1921-2012), and Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923-2002). Other sub-groups included Forces Nouvelles, and Art Non Figuratif.

Op-Art: The New Geometric Abstraction

One of the most distinct styles of geometric abstract painting to emerge from the modernist era, was the Op-Art movement (an abbreviation of 'optical art') whose hallmark was the engagement of the eye, by means of complex, often monochromatic, geometric patterns, to cause it to see colours and shapes that were not actually there. Leading members included the Hungarian painter and graphic designer Victor Vasarely (1908-97), and the English painter Bridget Riley (b.1931). The movement disappeared by the early 1970s.

Postmodernist Abstraction

Since the start of postmodernism (since the mid-60s) contemporary art has tended to fragment into smaller, more local schools. This is because the prevailing philosophy among contemporary art movements has been to distrust the grand styles of the early 20th century. An exception is the Minimalism school, a back-to-basics style of geometric abstraction exemplified by postmodernist artists like sculptors Donald Judd (1928-94), Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), Robert Morris (b.1931), Walter de Maria (b.1935), and Carl Andre (b.1935). Another important minimalist sculptor is Richard Serra (b.1939) whose abstract works include Tilted Arc (1981, Federal Plaza, New York) and The Matter of Time (2004, Guggenheim Bilbao). Noted abstract painters associated with Minimalism include Ad Reinhardt (1913-67), Frank Stella (b.1936), whose large scale paintings involve interlocking clusters of shape and colours; Sean Scully (b.1945) the Irish-American painter whose rectangular shapes of colour seem to imitate the monumental forms of prehistoric structures; as well as Jo Baer (b.1929), Ellsworth Kelly (b.1923), Robert Mangold (b.1937), Brice Marden (b.1938), Agnes Martin (1912-2004), and Robert Ryman (b.1930).

In part a reaction against the austerity of minimalism, Neo-Expressionism was mainly a figurative movement which emerged from the early 1980s onwards. However, it also included a number of outstanding abstract painters such as the Englishman Winner Howard Hodgkin (b.1932), as well as the German artists Georg Baselitz (b.1938), Anselm Kiefer (b.1945), and others. Among several other internationally acclaimed abstract artists who achieved recognition during the 1980s and 1990s, is the British sculptor Anish Kapoor (b.1954), noted for large-scale works in rough hewn stone, cast metal and stainless steel. Both Hodgkin and Kapoor are Turner Prize Winners.

Collections of Abstract Art

Non-representational art can be seen in most of the best art museums around the world. Notable collections are held by the following institutions

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York.
Samuel R Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY.
Tate Gallery, London.
Georges Pompidou Centre, Paris.
Guggenheim Bilbao.
Guggenheim Venice.
Kunstmuseum, Basel.


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