One Fine Show: Color Field Paintings at the NSU Art Museum

Fort Lauderdale isn’t too far from Miami—if you’re headed to Art Basel, consider swinging through this exhibition.

Welcome to One Fine Show, where Observer highlights a recently opened exhibition at a museum outside New York City—a place we know and love that already receives plenty of attention.

A museum show in a large space with colorblock paintings on the walls
An installation view of “Glory of the World: Color Field Painting (1950s to 1983)”. Photo by Stephen Brooke, courtesy NSU Art Museum

Artists usually outgrow the movements that are associated with them. The term ‘impressionism’ grew out of a derogatory description, and Donald Judd shunned the term ‘minimalist.’ Moreover, you’ll find no Mark Rothko in the new show “Glory of the World: Color Field Painting (1950s to 1983)” at the NSU Art Museum in Fort Lauderdale, because though he pioneered the painting of fields of color, he didn’t consider himself to be a part of that discipline. That term better described those whose work followed the atomic bomb that was Abstract Expressionism.

“The exhibition really is about the generation that comes after because they faced a dilemma,” the museum’s director and curator and former Rothko Foundation head, Bonnie Clearwater, recently told the Miami New Times. “They were all committed to abstract painting, and unlike the abstract expressionists who came before them and went through this whole process — going from representational and expressionist art to surrealism and biomorphism, and ultimately to their resolved full-blown abstraction—this generation starts where that ends.”

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What emerged from Abstract Expressionism was Pop Art, Minimalism, Op Art, Photorealism, the Black Art Movement, hard-edge abstraction and Color Field painting, of which this show offers almost fifty stellar examples by artists like Frank Stella, Lawrence Poons, Jules Olitski, Kenneth Noland, Morris Lewis, Helen Frankenthaler and Sam Gilliam, its title taken from a quote by Stella writing on Hans Hofmann’s Gloriamundi (1963).

The show would seem to argue that Abstract Expressionism had all those other movements wrapped up into it and that once its Pandora’s Box was opened, the Color Field discipline was free to luxuriate in palette experiments without all the emotional complexity or politics. The Gilliam paintings are wonderful examples from the 1970s—tie-dyes that intermingle to the point that they redefine groovy.

But the Nolands steal the show, namely THIS (1958-1959) and THAT (1958-1959), seven-foot squares with abstracted bullseyes that differ only in the vibrant color selection of their rings but still manage to tell completely different stories. And why do you always assume that everything is a target, man? If you’re ever feeling the vibes too hard, you can usually count on Princeton’s own Frank Stella to knock some sense into you, but even he’s getting into the hippie act for this show. Like Noland, his offerings are larger in scale. There’s Waskwaiu II [Variations on a Circle] (1968) and there’s Sacramento No. 6 (1978), both of which show meticulous planning in their design and then outré choices for their colors. Stella’s palette would become his own to the point you could remove it from the designs and still know whose it was.

Louis’ acrylic resins on canvas are also big and probably among the more intense works in the show. They appear to be giant curtains, behind which very different plays are about to be staged. Shout out to the Poonses, which build on the work of Jackson Pollock, free from the troubles and hypnotizing effect of the latter.

Fort Lauderdale isn’t too far from Miami. If you’re going down to Art Basel you should consider swinging through.

Glory of the World: Color Field Painting (1950s to 1983)” is on view at the NSU Art Museum through June 30, 2024. 

One Fine Show: Color Field Paintings at the NSU Art Museum