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Columbia Museum of Art presents Modern & Contemporary Art from the Collection

The Columbia Museum of Art showcases Modern & Contemporary Art from the Collection in an ongoing exhibition on view beginning August 2012, featuring over 30 paintings, drawings, photographs and sculptures that will remain on view indefinitely.

Columbia Museum of Art

Among the earliest works of art on view in Modern & Contemporary Art from the Collection is Leon Kelly’s energetic abstraction influenced by the then-new and radical art movement, Cubism. Kelly’s early embrace of Cubism was shared by a small, but enthusiastic number of Americans who were excited about the possibilities opened up by Cubism: objects are always viewed and understood from different angles and over time, so why not include time and space into image-making? Thinking in this way resulted in canvases that were baffling to the public when first made as they showed a flat surface fractured into space that analyzed objects with movement and changeability in mind. Kelly’s work is a classic American response to one of the most important art movements and a good starting place for visitors to either revisit Cubism or begin to appreciate it for the first time.

The dramatically large and brightly colored Gene Davis piece is in the same gallery. While early abstraction usually involved a figure or a still life as a point of departure, by the mid-20th century, artists were well versed in using color and shape alone to express complex ideas and emotions. Davis’ imposing canvas is visually scintillating with line after line vying for the mind’s attention. The purpose of such painting was not to describe known things such as a cat or a cup or a flaming sunset, but rather to orchestrate color (much as one would orchestrate musical notes, which are completely abstract and no one ever questions that fact) to stimulate a viewer’s reactions, reactions that need not (or cannot be) put into words. Artists often say that if they could write about what it was they felt, they would. Instead, they paint it.

As the 20th century moved on, art movements of all kinds emerged, often known as “isms”: Cubism, Fauvism, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism among them. Lionel Gilbert’s sensually compelling Breakfast Table is a prime example of how an artist fuses stylistic sources. Here, visitors see glimmers of Cubism in the faceted planes that make up the compote and cups, while the bold and paint-laden brush of Abstract Expressionism is present, too. Touches of arbitrary color speak to the influence of Fauvism. While Gilbert’s painting is a visual delight, it is also an object lesson on how artists think: good results often come from the blending of influences that came before us.

Small abstract oils by nationally recognized artist Pat Steir are also on view for the first time. These small, effervescent canvases, in the same vein as the large Gene Davis, exploit the potential of color alone as a path to expression. As opposed to Davis, Steir does not control the shapes and edges of color at all, but rather lets color flow down and around randomly, allowing gravity and chance to play a part in the mark making. The result is a series of fresh, glowing images that the artist arrived at after intense study of color. All of the works by Pat Steir are recent gifts from the nationally-known collectors, Herbert and Dorothy Vogel.

Modern & Contemporary Art from the Collection is located in the Lipscomb Family Galleries 5 & 6 on level one. For more information, visit

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