Space: Lifestyle & Landscape After WWII

In the Elements of Art, space is considered the area around, between, or within the focal point of an art piece. Space might be positive, negative, or closed. In the context of Post–WWII culture, space could also be considered an indicator and signifier of opportunity, privilege, and lifestyle derivative of postwar expansion and development in the West. This gallery explores the sublime and picturesque in relation to space and the landscape after World War II. 

After WWII, the United States became the new art center for emerging ideas and art movements. Abstract Expressionism–flourishing in New York and the San Francisco Bay Area– sought to free art from the representational world. The movement emphasized process and technique as a way to express emotions and universal themes, often evoking elements of the sublime.  Many artists connected to this movement, such as Hans Hoffman and Jay DeFeo, who came to teach and mentor emerging artists in California. Concurrently–outside the art studios–new practices in land development were shifting the physical landscape of the West. Growth and expansion through freeway construction, suburbanization, commercialization, and globalization came to eliminate access to space for certain people and create ideal access to space for others. These factors informed the shared capitalized ideas of California–contributing to an emerging commercialized feel of land, lifestyle, and identity.  

The selected works in this gallery include both works on paper and on canvas. The colors, styles, and materials represented convey reactions to trends and interest of Californian identity emerging after Modernism and the second half of the 20th century. 

As you explore this gallery, consider how the sublime and picturesque became redefined by artists navigating these external forces. Consider how access to space informed their choices in subject and in the ideas they sought to explore. Do color and light contribute to a commercialized feel of California?  How has the urban landscape shifted our ideas of the picturesque? 


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All images are subject to the copyright of Saint Mary's College Museum of Art Permanent Collection