Signs & Symbols Audio Guide Playlist
This audio guide highlights selected works from the exhibitionSigns & Symbols, focusing on the development of American abstraction after World War II.
NARRATOR: The painter Willem de Kooning once said that oil paint—rich and touchable as it is—existed to paint flesh. In paintings like this one, Alfred Jensen seems to have made a much less likely proposal: that it exists to work out systems of thought. Jensen’s paint is thick, and his color is incredibly brilliant. He applied the paint to his canvas straight out of the tube, and then spread it with a palette knife. Because the oil paint is translucent and because Jensen didn’t smooth the surfaces, this practice means that the painting is covered in reflective bumps and ridges. Together with Jensen’s brightly contrasting colors, this shiny texture animates the surface.
To organize the surface, Jensen used systems drawn from Arabic, Mayan, Chinese, and other ancient numerical systems. He also set up a series of dualities: black and white, primary colors against their complements, warm against cool. He mirrored, repeated, and transposed forms. He never worked out these systems in advance, but figured them out in the process of diagramming them. For Jensen—a truly international person who was born in Guatemala, moved all over Europe, and ended up in the United States—these systems became, among other things, a way to symbolically understand the universe through other civilizations’ cultures.
- 200 Introduction to Signs & Symbols
- 201 Louise Bourgeois, One and Others, 1955
- 202 Mark Tobey, Universal Field, 1949
- 203 Will Barnet, Male and Female, 1954
- 204 Steve Wheeler, Laughing Boy Rolling, 1946
- 205 Forrest Bess, Drawings, 1957
- 206 Mark Rothko, Agitation of the Archaic, 1944
- 207 Adolph Gottlieb, Vigil, 1948
- 208 Aaron Siskind
- 210 Jackson Pollock, Untitled, c. 1939–42
- 211 Richard Pousette-Dart, The Magnificent, 1950–51
- 212 Isamu Noguchi, The Gunas, 1946
- 213 Alfred Jensen, A Perfect Equal Area I, 1960
- 214 Jasper Johns, White Target, 1957
- 509 Alexander Calder, The Brass Family, 1929