1960 onwards

While Europe was attempting to recover from the shock of the Second World War, artists looked for ways to express the general emotional and physical disarray. Some did so in completely new, intuitive, violently expressive images that gave concrete form to the psychic energy of modern life. In the 1960s, this trend led to large-scale projects that eventually blurred the boundaries of art and called for a far-reaching re-engineering of society, as in Constant’s New Babylon. Eyeball to eyeball with the disasters of war, other artists went into voluntary exile. They chose to adopt a tightly structured form of abstraction, like Bridget Riley or Sol Lewitt. The world of pre-war Modernism is not far removed from their work and was the foundation on which they built their self-confident vision of the world.

The artists who exhibited these two extreme reactions also had much in common. They sought a radical means to distinguish themselves from the chaotic world of mass consumerism. In the course of the 1970s and ’80s, both categories resorted to increasingly poor materials and images, making the secret and exclusive the bearer of highly personal and psychological meanings (as in the work of Mario Merz). Art was positioned at a remove from reality, in opposition to everyday life. The one exception was a group of artists – mainly from the United States – whose work actually proclaimed itself one with the everyday world by appropriating the images of consumerism and popular culture (as in the work of Allan d’Arcangelo).

This latter group of artists never gained a firm foothold within the collecting policies of the Gemeentemuseum. The work of Francis Bacon and Bridget Riley are good examples of the other too tendencies: the violently expressive on the one hand and the tightly orchestrated on the other. Both of these artists exhibit the radically independent attitude of the immediate post-war generation. Their work fits with key areas within the collection of the Gemeentemuseum, such as the work of Constant, Anton Heyboer, Jan Schoonhoven and Daan van Golden. It relies on the energy within which they explore the dividing lines between art and life. The work of Dieter Roth, Louise Bourgeois, Bruce Nauman, Georg Baselitz and Mario Merz is centred on the psychological potential of simple materials. The work of Lee Bontecou, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Giorgio Morandi and Yayoi Kusama is radically simple in structure and form but, for that very reason, succeeds in striking a chord that gives immediate access to metaphysical experience.

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