LOS ANGELES — At first sight of the Green April exhibition at David Kordansky Gallery, it is fairly obvious that Sam Gilliam is a marvelous painter who is sensitive to color and hue, shade and saturation, and able to create vibrantly interstitial zones where an object is not quite itself and not yet something else. Looking at the eponymous “Green April” painting, you might see a forest of green bamboo, or a bed of seaweed, or an attempt at visually representing how these things are alike. Each painting of Gilliam’s is like a tidal occurrence, something naturally wafting to the shore of your vision and out again, but never quite still, never settled. I want to say the work is beautiful, literally full of beauty, but that descriptive does not do justice to this exhibition of paintings, many of which have never been seen outside of Gilliam’s studio. That’s what’s wonderful about this exhibition: it gives you so much to carry away with that you quickly run out of storage room. There’s the display of his painting innovations, such as the works with beveled edges or the draped paintings, plus the story of who Sam Gilliam is, which is almost as compelling as the work itself.
Gilliam created much of this work in the mid-1960s, and instead of brushing on paint — which had been done for centuries at that point — he poured acrylic paints onto canvas and then folded it over on itself while the paint was wet to create prismatic effects and a sense of space and dimensionality. Gilliam also stretched the canvas on a beveled frame, so that when the painting was hung it seemed to materialize out of the wall. Then in 1968 he created the “Drape” paintings, for which he similarly poured paint and folded and refolded the canvas, but also at times blew aluminum dust onto the painting while it was still wet, thus adding shimmer and shine. He hung these paintings, letting them droop like suspended fabric, treating the work not as surface or the canvas as substrate, but the whole as a material object that made painting more than a window of depiction.
These formal innovations were singular, which in today’s market is often a beneficial role to occupy. However, in his day, his work separated Gilliam from his peers, the Color Field painters and the Minimalists. Especially for a black artist making work that did not directly engage with the profoundly consequential social and political movements of the late ’60s, finding advocates to champion his practice was difficult. This was the height of the classic Civil Rights Movement, and here was an artist in Washington, DC making canvases of ethereal shades of color that imagined a freedom for stylistic exploration that had not quite arrived yet. Instead of making work about his lack of social and political freedom, or perhaps the felt need for it, he made aesthetic liberty the premise of his practice. But, until recently, he never found favor in the art establishment. According to Kurt Mueller, director of the Kordansky gallery, critics and curators just did not know what to do with Sam Gilliam.
While Gilliam has gained traction over the years, this exhibition, Mueller says, is still aiming for a resurgence of the artist. Gilliam was born in 1933, and many of his paintings have not been shown outside his studio for 45 years. It’s about time we see him.
Sam Gilliam’s Green April continues at David Kordansky (5130 W Edgewood Pl, Los Angeles) through July 16.
A new study details the creation of a hyper-flexible material inspired by an unexpected source: the humble sea cucumber.
The extensive exhibition confronts the Netherlands’s often-forgotten colonialist legacy.
The 1,600-year-old fragment was part of a dodecahedron, a mysterious object that experts believe may have been linked to the occult.
The Renaissance work by Francesco Salviati is the museum’s first painting on marble.
The 1969 exhibition 5 + 1, and now Revisiting 5 + 1, are reminders that the history of Black Art in the United States is diverse rather than monolithic.
The artist’s solo US museum debut at the Baltimore Museum of Art is a contemptuous, at times satirical, take on oppression that gives way to a new history.
Ten artists will receive studio space and access to faculty, staff, students, workshops, and programming at an arts institution in the heart of Philadelphia.
Who tells a tale adds a tail: Latin America and contemporary art explores contemporary Latin American art without conforming to external expectations.
Simulation Sketchbook takes as its starting point the reality that digital artists, like all artists, sketch out their work as well.
Twitter’s curbing of free API access could affect accounts posting from museum collections or the archives of long-gone artists.
How does a selective competition fit with the contemporary art world’s aspirations toward greater inclusivity?