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Saturday, June 1 • 11:30am - 12:00pm
(Paintings) Hans Hofmann’s Last Lesson: A Study of the Artist’s Materials in the Last Decade of His Career

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In 1992, art historian and University of California, Berkeley professor T.J. Clark gave a public lecture based on the university’s renowned collection of Abstract Expressionist art. “What you’re going to hear tonight is a defense of Abstract Expressionism,” began Clark, “[and] if there is to be a defense of Abstract Expressionism at all . . . it will have to be cast as a defense of Hofmann in particular . . . . [for he is] the trigger for the line of argument I’m going to present.”

Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) was intellectually and physically situated at the nexus of Abstract Expressionist experimentation. For more than four decades, artists and critics from around the country came to hear Hofmann’s synthesis of modern art movements in his “push and pull” theory of color and form. Art critic Clement Greenberg claimed to have been educated by Hofmann, Greenberg’s ideological opponent Harold Rosenberg claimed Hofmann as the first of his “action painters,” and the Museum of Modern Art called Hofmann the “dean of the abstract-expressionist movement.” With students positioned at the forefront of art movements and institutions throughout the United States, Hofmann is a thread running throughout Abstract Expressionism, tying its participants to the efforts of their progenitors and descendants, “which is to say,” according to artist Frank Stella, “all of the twentieth century.”

Hofmann’s popularity as a teacher peaked in the 1950s, a period when his own painting flourished and a new wave of innovation in paint manufacture led to radical shifts in art making. Many of the condition problems conservators face in the treatment of modern paintings first appear in Abstract Expressionist work, and Hofmann is an excellent mirror of this unique historical moment.

Building on the author’s research that revealed incompatibility problems in the incorporation of new materials by Hofmann and his Abstract Expressionist colleagues, this new research tracks Hofmann’s use of materials during the ten-year period just prior to and after the 1958 closing of Hofmann's schools in New York City and Provincetown, Massachusetts. Using analytical data gathered from the analysis of over 500 paint and fiber samples, this presentation will trace Hofmann’s embrace of industrial paint binders and modern organic pigments, focusing on relationships between the artist’s late-career materials, style, and the impact of these choices on the long-term stability of Hofmann’s work.

1. Transcript of lecture on the occasion of the museum’s reinstallation of their extension collection of Hans Hofmann paintings. Courtesy of University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. This lecture is the starting point for Clark’s published versions of “In Defense of Abstract Expressionism” in the Summer 1994 edition of October magazine and in the 1999 essay compilation Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism.

2. “This writer owes more to the illumination received from Hofmann’s lectures than to any other source.” Clement Greenberg, “Art: Review of an Exhibition by Hans Hofmann and a Reconsideration of Mondrian’s Theories.” The Nation, 21 April 1945.

3. Harold Rosenberg, “Hans Hofmann: Nature into Action,” ARTnews 56(3), May 1957.

4. 1963-65 Biennial Report, Museum of Modern Art (New York).

5. Frank Stella, “The Artist of the Century.” American Heritage 50(7), November 1999.

avatar for Dawn Rogala, [Fellow]

Dawn Rogala, [Fellow]

Paintings Conservator, Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute
Dr. Rogala graduated from the MA/CAS program in art conservation at Buffalo State College of the State University of New York and received her PhD in preservation studies from the University of Delaware. She has authored and coauthored papers on materials behavior, paint analysis... Read More →

Saturday June 1, 2013 11:30am - 12:00pm EDT
JW Marriott Grand Ballroom 3 & 4 19 S West St Indianapolis, IN 46204

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