Signs & Symbols
June 28–Oct 28, 2012
Drawn from the Museum’s deep holdings of paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, and photographs, Signs & Symbols sheds new light on the development of American abstraction during the critical postwar period of the mid-1940s to the end of the 1950s. Many artists active in this period who are often overlooked—Will Barnet, Forrest Bess, Charles Seliger, and Mark Tobey, among others—developed abstract work that remains distinct from many of the concerns associated with the canonized Abstract Expressionists, including large-scale canvases and gestural brushwork. Instead, the exhibition presents a more nuanced narrative, focused on the figurative and calligraphic “signs and symbols” present in much of the highly controlled work from this period and included in this show. In many cases, this work drew inspiration from specifically American sources and sought to foster a national aesthetic distinct from European Surrealism and Cubism. These investigations formed an important foundation for a future generation of artists—including Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein—who later incorporated highly individualized systems of signs into their own work while embracing distinctly American subject matter.
Signs & Symbols is the third in a multiyear series of exhibitions aimed at reassessing the Museum’s collection in anticipation of its move to its new building downtown. Unfolding in chronological order over a two year period, these exhibitions will explore overlooked developments in American art and reconsider iconic figures and masterworks within new frameworks and contexts.
Signs & Symbols is organized by Donna De Salvo, Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Programs, in collaboration with Jane Panetta.
Ongoing support for the permanent collection and major support for Signs & Symbols is provided by Bank of America.
Theodoros Stamos (1922–97), Ancestral Worship, 1947. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase 48.9. © Estate of Theodoros Stamos
Roy Lichtenstein (1923–97), Indian with Pony, 1953. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Print Committee 83.11. © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation
Ivan Le Lorraine Albright (1897–1983), Roaring Fork, Wyoming, 1948. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence A. Fleischman and purchase 62.30. © Estate of Ivan Le Lorraine Albright
Bradley Walker Tomlin (1899–1953), Number 2 – 1950, 1959. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Mr. and Mrs. David Rockefeller in honor of John I. H. Baur 81.8
Signs & Symbols
Tour of Signs & Symbols
11 am–12 pm
Member Saturday Night
Behind-the-Scenes Presentation: Signs & Symbols
Opening Reception for Summer Exhibitions
Member Preview Day: Signs & Symbols
This audio guide highlights selected works from the exhibition Signs & Symbols, focusing on the development of American abstraction after World War II.
Installation view Signs & Symbols (June 28–October 28, 2012), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Left to right: Barnett Newman; Isamu Noguchi; Franz Kline; and Bradley Walker Tomlin. Photograph by Sheldan Collins
Installation view Signs & Symbols (June 28–October 28, 2012), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Left to right: David Smith; Aaron Siskind; Steve Wheeler; Richard Stankiewicz; and Mark Rothko. Photograph by Sheldan Collins
Installation view Signs & Symbols (June 28–October 28, 2012), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Left to right: Richard Pousette-Dart; Byron Browne; David Hare; Isamu Noguchi; Alfonso Ossorio; and Robert Motherwell. Photograph by Sheldan Collins