Morris Louis. Untitled 5-76. 1956. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Marcella Brenner Revocable Trust. BMA 2011.184
Morris Louis. Untitled 5-76. 1956. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Gift of Marcella Brenner Revocable Trust. BMA 2011.184

Exhibition includes recent gift of rarely shown paintings and ink drawings

BALTIMORE, MD (July 23, 2013)—The Baltimore Museum of Art’s newly reopened Contemporary Wing is the setting for an exhibition of more than 25 works that illuminate seldom seen aspects of Baltimore-born painter Morris Louis’ artistic practice. On view September 8, 2013-February 9, 2014, Morris Louis Unveiled includes Louis’ iconic Dalet Beth (1958) ‘veil’ painting and Silver III (1953) and Untitled 5-76 (1956), two bold gestural paintings that reveal the artist’s little-known exploration of Abstract Expressionism. Louis’ range of influences is also vividly shown through related works on paper by Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, and Jackson Pollock.

The exhibition was inspired by a gift of two large-scale paintings and a number of surprising drawings that came to the BMA last year from the estate of the artist’s widow. These are presented along with other works drawn from the BMA’s collection and from a Baltimore private collection. In conjunction with the exhibition, the BMA will present important examples of works by Louis’s influences, peers, and followers, including Helen Frankenthaler’s majestic Madridscape (1959).  The era of the Washington Color School is represented through works by Sam Gilliam, Kenneth Noland, Howard Mehring, and Anne Truitt.

Morris Louis Unveiled is curated by BMA Curator of Contemporary Art Kristen Hileman with guest scholar Antonia Pocock, a Ph.D. candidate at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, who conducted new in-depth research on Louis through the project. The exhibition is generously sponsored by the Morris Louis Art Trust, the Morris Louis Conservation Fund, and the Marcella Brenner Revocable Trust.

“Louis’ commitment to experimenting moved painting in a new direction, and his art ever forward,” said curator Kristen Hileman. “We see in these beautiful, expansive paintings the artist reconciling two very different approaches to abstraction—chaotic layers of spontaneous expressive marks, and flat expanses of pure, pulsating color at times taken to a radically minimal extreme.”

Pocock has been investigating Louis’ approach to abstraction in the late 1940s through the mid-1950s and wrote the essay for a small publication that accompanies the exhibition. She will also hold a free lecture about her research on Saturday, November 9 at 2 p.m. in the BMA’s Woodward Gallery.

Morris Louis (1912–1962) is considered an influential originator of the Washington Color School, a group of mid-20th century painters who explored the language of abstraction using new materials and a focus on color. A pioneer of Color Field painting, Louis gained renown for his innovative method of staining raw canvases with washes of newly developed acrylic paint to create vibrant, large-scale works. Born in Baltimore and a graduate of what is now known as the Maryland Institute College of Art, Louis had a long history with the BMA, having exhibited in the museum’s annual Maryland artist exhibitions four times in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and having served on the BMA’s advisory artists’ committee.

Contemporary Art at the BMA

The BMA’s nearly 100-year dedication to the acquiring and presenting works by the artists of our time has resulted in a significant collection of contemporary art. Among the highlights are major late paintings by Andy Warhol; important works by Grace Hartigan, Jasper Johns, Donald Judd, Glenn Ligon, and Anne Truitt; an outstanding group of works by influential international artists such as Olafur Eliasson, Thomas Hirschhorn, and Franz West; and artists whose work makes a profound social statement, including David Hammons, General Idea, Zoe Leonard, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres.  In 1994, the museum added a wing with 16,000 square feet of gallery space for its growing collection of post-1945 art. The 2012 renovation of the wing was designed to enhance the visitor experience and the BMA’s presentation of contemporary art across all media.  Improvements included a dedicated space for changing exhibitions; a black box gallery for the presentation of light, sound, and moving image works; a gallery dedicated to contemporary prints, drawings, and photographs; two new interactive galleries; and the museum’s first mobile guide for the collection. More than 100 objects—including paintings, sculpture, photography, works on paper, and video—are presented thematically with state-of-the art lighting and include recent acquisitions of works by Walead Beshty, Julie Mehretu, Sarah Oppenheimer, Sarah Sze, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Nari Ward.  The BMA’s ongoing commitment to cultivating emerging artists continues with a strong artistic program that highlights local, national, and international contemporary artists.

About the Baltimore Museum of Art

Founded in 1914, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) inspires people of all ages and backgrounds through exhibitions, programs, and collections that tell an expansive story of art—challenging long-held narratives and embracing new voices. Our outstanding collection of more than 97,000 objects spans many eras and cultures and includes the world’s largest public holding of works by Henri Matisse; one of the nation’s finest collections of prints, drawings, and photographs; and a rapidly growing number of works by contemporary artists of diverse backgrounds. The museum is also distinguished by a neoclassical building designed by American architect John Russell Pope and two beautifully landscaped gardens featuring an array of modern and contemporary sculpture. The BMA is located three miles north of the Inner Harbor, adjacent to the main campus of Johns Hopkins University, and has a community branch at Lexington Market. General admission is free so that everyone can enjoy the power of art.

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