February 19, 2017

John McLaughlin "Total Abstraction" @ LACMA

Though born and raised a Yankee, John McLaughlin (1898-1976) is identified first and foremost as a Southern California artist.  So it is entirely appropriate that the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art (LACMA) honor the State's adopted son with a long-overdue retrospective of his "Hard Edge" works.  "John McLaughlin Paintings: Total Abstraction" is a comprehensive survey of the post war geometric paintings for which he is best known and only the third major museum exhibition ever devoted to his work.

Three "Untitled" paintings from the 1950s

While McLaughlin himself freely acknowledged the influence of such Minimalist artists as Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich, it is the art of Japan that had the most profound impact on his vision.  From his childhood spent in the Asian art galleries of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and his later travels throughout Japan and China, McLaughlin absorbed the Zen principals of the void, or "ma", the negative space where one's consciousness can expand.

"V-1957", 1957

His sharp geometric designs are not intended to represent any type of object or experience, rather they are meant to suggest complete abstraction and with that, the possibility of deep contemplation.   

Upper: "#22-1959", 1959
Lower: "Untitled", 1966

The precise and perfect lines permit the viewer to become immersed in the negative space and ideally develop a more complete connection with nature.  McLaughlin endeavored to push the concept of abstraction to its outer limit, ultimately employing solely the shape of a rectangle as the preferred form and black as the simplest and most powerful color.  By the 1970s McLaughlin's paintings had been simplified to the extreme as he pursued his quest to achieve the void.

"#12-1970", 1970

John McLaughlin's obsession with abstraction earned him quite a few accolades during his lifetime and has elevated him to almost cult status among followers of California art.  His work had an immeasurable influence on later 20th century movements such as Light and Space (think James Turrell) and Pop Art (think Ed Ruscha) and continues to inspire to this day.  "Total Abstraction" is on view at LACMA until April 16th.

Leaving the museum during a break in the rain, I passed the site-specific installation by another noted California artist Chris Burden (1946-2015) that has become a landmark for visitors to downtown Los Angeles.  "Urban Light", 2008, features two hundred and two restored cast-iron antique lamp posts arranged in a grid that is almost irresistible to anyone with a camera - myself included!

No comments: