Four Abstract Classicists

Ahmanson Building, Level 2
December 21, 2013–June 29, 2014

Four Abstract Classicists features hard-edge abstractions from LACMA’s collection by Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, Frederick Hammersley, and John McLaughlin. The term “abstract classicists” was coined in 1959 by curator and critic Jules Langsner to define these four southern California painters whose work he grouped in a seminal exhibition that year at the Los Angeles County Museum in Exposition Park (prior to LACMA’s existence as an independent art museum). The work exemplified the generational shift in the late 1950s and early 60s from the energetic brushwork of Abstract Expressionism to the cooler aesthetics of Pop Art and Minimalism.

The abstract classicists painted forms that are, in Langsner’s words, “finite, flat, rimmed by a hard clean edge…not intended to evoke in the spectator any recollections of specific shapes he may have encountered in some other connection. They are autonomous shapes, sufficient unto themselves”—that is to say, pure abstractions.

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Image: Lorser Feitelson, Hardedge Line Painting, 1963, Enamel on canvas, 72 x 60 in. (182.88 x 152.4 cm), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, anonymous gift through the Contemporary Art Council (M.64.7). © The Feitelson / Lundeberg Art Foundation.

Around a round
Frederick Hammersley
John McLaughlin
On in
Frederick Hammersley
Bars #7
Karl Benjamin
circa 1955

What’s in a Name? The Story Behind Four Abstract Classicists

One of the interesting trends in recent curatorial practice is to restage or revisit important historical exhibitions. These shows typically take one of two approaches: faithfully reconstructing an exhibition from the past (such as New York gallery Zwirner & Wirth’s 2008 redo of Dan Flavin’s 1964 exhibition at Green Gallery), or conceiving of a new project that uses a past exhibition as a conceptual jumping-off point (for example, When Attitudes Became Form Become Attitudes at San Francisco’s CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in 2012, a contemporary riff on the famous Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form at Kunsthalle Bern in 1969).

Four Abstract Classicists, which opened this past Saturday, organized by curator of modern art Carol S. Eliel, falls somewhere between these two tactics…