Whitney Museum


22 Jan - 30 Apr 2009

© Peter Halley (b. 1953).
The Acid Test, 1991–92.
Synthetic polymer, polymer emulsion, and fluorescent paint on canvas in four parts,
90 1/8 x 182 5/16 in. (228.9 x 463.1 cm) overall.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Louis and Bessie Adler Foundation, Inc., and the Painting and Sculpture Committee 92.28a-d. Photograph by Steven Sloman

Opens January 22, 2009

In the 1960s, artists began to use a range of new products that changed the possibilities of painting and sculpture. Synthetic polymer paints— popularly known as acrylics—became the first widely used alternative to oil, a material that had dominated painting since the Renaissance. Unlike oil, these water-based colors dried quickly and to a uniform surface. Artists such as Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis explored their physical properties, especially their ability to stain and be poured directly on raw canvas. Medium and support could merge and become equal. These new approaches advanced one of the fundamental ideas of modern painting: acknowledging flatness as part of a painting’s status as object and picture. Other artists—those not working abstractly—explored how synthetic and commercial materials could impact an image’s meaning.
The new emphasis on surface took on metaphorical as well as material importance. Andy Warhol inextricably merged process with subject matter in his screen-printed paintings. Richard Artschwager used commercially made materials to create a slick, plastic look that was integral to that which was represented. This exhibition explores how new synthetic products not only allowed for a new look but also aligned with subject matter to change the direction of postwar American art.

Tags: Richard Artschwager, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Andy Warhol