Experiments in Form: Sam Gilliam, Alan Shields, Frank Stella: Block Museum - Northwestern University
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Experiments in Form: Sam Gilliam, Alan Shields, Frank Stella

January 13-June 24, 2018
Katz Gallery
Sam Gilliam, detail from One (1970), Collection of the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art

Experiments in Form uses works in the Block Museum of Art’s collection by Sam Gilliam (b. 1933), Alan Shields (1944–2005), and Frank Stella (b. 1936) as starting points to consider how artists of the 1960s and 1970s challenged the conventions of painting and printmaking. Along with others active at this time, these three artists questioned, for example, whether a painting had to be a flat, rectangular object mounted on a stretcher, affixed to a wall, and viewed from one vantage point; that paper was only a surface to be painted, printed, or drawn on, rather than a medium for creative manipulation in its own right; or that there was only one way for a work of art to be installed.

Gilliam, Shields, and Stella mixed techniques and media and used novel materials to create works that represented both subtle shifts and radical departures from artistic norms, as well as from their own previous explorations. Stella emphasized the “object-ness” of his art by creating shaped paintings and by including slight three-dimensional effects in his prints. Gilliam employed collage—usually associated with works on paper—in innovative painted canvases. Shields drew on techniques and materials, like sewing and beadwork, from the realm of “craft.” Both Gilliam and Shields abandoned the stretcher to create paintings that behaved like textiles.

The ten works in this exhibition span from 1964 to 1975, with works from the Block’s collection complemented by loans from institutional and private collections. They are installed in such a way as to encourage close looking. The grouping presents suggestive examples drawn from the vast bodies of work produced by Gilliam, Shields, and Stella in the ’60s and ’70s, while also alluding to the wealth of experimentation undertaken by many during this period.

Experiments in Form is inspired by the recent gift to the Block of the painting One (1970), by Sam Gilliam. This work was a donation from the Collection of Walter A. Netsch and Dawn Clark Netsch. The exhibition is curated by Janet Dees, Steven and Lisa Munster Tananbaum Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, and funded through support from The Mary and Leigh Block Endowment.