Briefly: The Modern and Contemporary Collection

Joslyn’s collection of modern and contemporary art includes major works by many of the leading figures of the twentieth and twenty-first century. The centerpiece of the collection is Jackson Pollock’s magnificent 1947 canvas Galaxy, which is complemented by paintings and sculpture by Hans Hoffman, Kenneth Noland, Al Held, Helen Frankenthaler, Tom Wesselmann, Robert Irwin, Donald Judd, Sol Le Witt, and Petah Coyne, offering a rich and varied narrative of the art of our time.

Below are highlights selected from Joslyn's Modern and Contemporary collection.
Modern and Contemporary
Kent Bellows (American, 1949-2005),
Jackie, March, 1996 , 1996,
acrylic on board, 31 x 20 inches
Gift of Dr. Thomas J. Huerter, 2003.1

Kent Bellows (American, 1949-2005),
Self Portrait Raging , 1991,
graphite on paper, 18 x 12 3/4 inches
Gift of Dr. Thomas J. Huerter, 2003.19

Ross Bleckner (American, born 1949),
1944-1945 , 1977-1980,
oil and wax on canvas, 76 x 204 in.; 193.04 x 518.16 cm
Memorial purchase in memory of E. Stanton Miller, II., 1980.43

Deborah Butterfield (American, born 1949),
Hapu , 1990,
cast bronze,
Museum purchase with funds from Collectors' Choice 1990 and the National Endowment for the Arts Purc, 1990.38

Deborah Butterfield has been creating life-size sculptures of horses since the 1970s. Rejecting the traditional rearing stallion imagery seen throughout the history of art in favor of a quieter, more nurturing representation of horses, Butterfield points to the vulnerable side of these animals. The artist has referred to her horses as symbolic self-portraits that reflect her moods and aspirations. This element of exposure is reflected in the sculptures’ open, skeletal composition. Butterfield created Hapu by casting in bronze Hawaiian hapu tree ferns and passion fruit vines that she collected in the forest

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976),
Numbered One to Seven , 1950,
painted sheet metal and wire, 82 x 62 in., 208.3 x 157.5 cm
Gift of the Joslyn Women's Association, 1978.265

Calder, America's first abstract artist of international renown, is forever associated with his invention of the mobile, which he developed by 1930 as freely moving sculptures of arcs and spheres. Calder's mobiles embodied the avant-garde spirit of the times by their engagement with machine technology, their use of abstraction as a valid, universal language of artistic expression, and their playful reliance on chance arrangement. Numbered One to Seven is characteristic of Calder's work, its biomorphic forms calling to mind planets and galaxies, plant life, and atomic particles, as large leaflike shapes vertically balance a smaller constellation of colorful circles.

Charles Clough (American, 1951-),
Dioecious , 1992,
enamel on masonite, 13 x 12 in.; 33.02 x 30.48 cm
Gift of the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection - Fifty Works for Fifty States, 2009.8

Charles Clough (American, 1951),
January Twenty-First , 1988-9,
enamel on board, 21 1/2 x 12 1/4 in.; 54.61 x 31.12 cm
Gift of the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection - Fifty Works for Fifty States, 2009.9

Gene Davis (American, 1920–1985),
Friar Tuck , 1978,
acrylic on canvas, 89 ¾ x 210 7/8 in.; 227.97 x 535.62 cm
Gift of Ak-Sar-Ben in Honor of N. Philips Dodge, King of Ak-Sar-Ben 1979-80, 1980.52

Friar Tuck is a quintessential Davis stripe painting. Utilizing a cool palette, the artist scattered vertical stripes of varying widths and colors across the large, unprimed canvas to create a work that is soft and light. Davis’ titles generally related to a dominant color, the sites where his works were painted, or to popular literature and culture. The character of Friar Tuck, from the legend of Robin Hood, conjures up an image of delight and merriment that can be related to the feeling derived from the work itself.

Gene Davis (American, 1920-1985),
Pink Parachute , 1980,
acrylic on unprimed canvas, 47 x 69 in.; 119.38 x 175.26
Gift of Sylvia B. and Jerome I. Cohn in Memory of Margy Schneider, 2007.42

Davis developed his signature work, the stripe painting, in the company of the Washington Color School, a loose, regional group of artists that developed out of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists. Davis explored the possibilities of unifying color and its support by staining saturated color into an unprimed canvas.

Stuart Davis (American, 1892-1964),
American Painting , 1932-51,
oil on canvas, 40 x 50¼, 101.6 x 127.64 cm
Lent by the University of Nebraska at Omaha, L-1974.71; Art © Estate of Stuart Davis/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Convinced that American art could combine popular themes with progressive pictorial construction, Davis invented a personal form of Cubism — bright, improvisatory compositions of lines and planar facets that captured the sights and sounds of this country's Modern Age. American Painting contains composite images referring to many things that stood for the new and national, including jazz music, skyscrapers, racing planes, even cartoon characters — innovations introduced or popularized in Davis’ lifetime.

Helen Frankenthaler (American, 1928-2011),
Monoscape , 1969,
acrylic on canvas, 104 ¾ x 124 1/8 in.; 266.07 x 315.28 cm
Museum purchase with funds from National Endowment for the Arts Museum Purchase Plan Grant and matching funds from Joslyn Women's Association, 1978.74

The lyrical, colorful abstractions of Frankenthaler descend from the open, gestural expressions of Jackson Pollock. Painting on unstretched, unprimed canvas laid on the floor, a method adopted from Pollock, enabled her to work from all sides. Frankenthaler flooded her canvases with thinned oils and acrylics that stained like a dye. By permeating the fabric with paint rather than layering it, she emphasized its flat surface and further accented the liquid nature of her medium. The result, in large, dramatic works like Monoscape, is atmospheric effects of shifting, fragile forms.

Al Held (American, 1928–2005),
Untitled , 1964,
acrylic on canvas, 76 x 118 ½ x 3 ¾ in.; 193.04 x 301 x 9.53 cm
Gift of Phil and Terri Schrager, 2000.28

Hans Hofmann (American, born Germany, 1880-1966),
Morning , 1948,
oil on canvas, 14 x 18 in.; 35.56 x 45.72 cm
Gift of Milton Wolsky, 1967.101

Hofmann, unlike many of the other Abstract Expressionists, veers away from mining the subconscious self, and instead embraced a lively style that was less psychologically intense. One of the first artists to drip and spatter paint, Hofmann juxtaposed contrasting hues and thickly textured paint, resulting in a vibrant interplay between pictoral depth of field and the flat surface of the canvas.

Robert Irwin (American, born 1928),
Untitled , 1969,
acrylic and formed acrylic disc, diameter: 54 in., 137.16 cm
Museum purchase, 1970.84

An example of the "light and space" movement with which Irwin is associated, Joslyn's untitled sculpture is a painted, convex acrylic disc affixed to the wall by a clear acrylic cylinder and lit from equidistant points, forming identical shadows. A band of gray provides a horizon line on the disc that merges into the cast shadows. The result is an ethereal sculpture overlapping circles formed by the disc and its four shadows that breaks down standard distinctions between the object, its background, and its environment.

Keith Jacobshagen (American, born 1941),
All Souls , 1994–95,
oil on canvas, 38 1/8 x 36 1/8 in.; 96.84 x 91.76 cm
Museum Purchase with funds provided by David and Anne Rismiller, 1998.26

The sky dominates Jacobshagen's landscapes, but his pictures are also carefully composed to draw the eye to the land and man's relation to it — here one sees a farmstead and a bonfire, perhaps burning the leaves of autumn on All Souls Day, November 1. The artist bases his paintings on photographs and field sketches that he makes in the country near his Nebraska home.

Keith Jacobshagen (American, born 1941),
Rain in August, Platte Valley , 2005,
oil on canvas,
Museum purchase with funds provided by David and Anne Rismiller, 2005.31

Keith Jacobshagen (American, 1941),
Spreading Evening Sky with Crows , 1988,
oil on paper, 12 x 36 in.; 30.48 x 91.44 cm
Gift of the Frederick Weisman Company, 1989.3

Raymond Jonson (American, 1891–1982),
Composition Five — The Wind , 1925,
oil on canvas, 33 ½ x 44 in.; 85.09 x 111.76 cm
Museum purchase, 1994.20

Composition Five is a classic example of Jonson’s work. A 1930 exhibition catalogue described this painting as having “a dancing emotional appeal [and a] modern concept…Jonson lived in the [New Mexico mountains] to get this theme. Air currents, the rebuff of wind forces…spectrum light…are all quite apparent in this design.” A champion of modernism, Jonson played a pivotal role in promoting non-representational art in New Mexico.

Donald Judd (American, 1928–1994),
Untitled , 1982,
brass and blue anodized aluminum, 40 ½ x 84 x 6 ¾ in.; 102.87 x 213.36 x 17.15 cm
Museum purchase, 1984.16; Art © Judd Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

“The medium is the message.” This Marshall McLuhan epithet is a reference point for looking at Judd's work, with its industrial vocabulary of manufactured surfaces—the product of an industrial age. Judd created large-scale sculpture that insisted on being an object instead of representing one. The clean lines, pure colors, simple repeated volumes, and smooth surfaces of his works address the basic language of three-dimensional form.

Jun Kaneko (Japanese, b. 1942),
Dango , 1988,
glazed ceramic, 62 x 32 x 19 inches
Gift of the Frederick Weisman Foundation, 1989.4

Alfred Leslie (American, Born 1927),
Julie Schwer and Jane Schwer , 1974-75,
oil on canvas, 108 x 72 in.; 274.32 x 182.88 cm
Museum purchase through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Schneider, Mr and Mrs. Jerome I. Cohn, 1983.28

In this double portrait of identical twins, Leslie's concern for each individual's physical traits portrays the women as certainly sisters, but seemingly of different ages.

Sol Lewitt (American, 1928–2007),
Seven-Part Variations on Two Different Kinds of Cubes , 1967–69,
painted steel, 41 ¼ x 41 ¼ in.; 104.78 x 104.78 cm
Museum purchase, 1984.29

LeWitt was a pioneer of conceptual art, in which the idea behind an artwork is as important as the resulting art object. The cube in particular, with its simple, perfect geometry, became LeWitt's ideal form. In this sculpture, four- and five-sided steel cubes are stacked in pairs, each of the units a different configuration of the basic type. The work is marked both by industrial precision and the intriguing play of shadow.

Stephen Mueller (American, 1947-2011),
Director's Conundrum , 1982,
acrylic and raw pigment on canvas, 100 x 80 in.; 254 x 203.2 cm
gift of Terri and Phil Schrager, 2003.8

Kenneth Noland (American, 1924–2010),
Cirium , 1964,
acrylic on canvas, 103 x 216 ¼ in.; 261.62 x 549.91 cm
Museum purchase with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts Purchase Plan Grant and matching, 1978.266; Art © Kenneth Noland/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Noland emphasized the flat, absorbent fabric of the canvas, the liquid nature of paint, and the light-filled intensities of color, arranging vibrant, stained color in regular, geometric shapes. In Cirium he additionally explored what happens if the form inside a work is allowed to determine the shape outside. Cirium is an unusual and elegant diamond that seems to float on the wall.

Tony Oursler (American, born 1957),
The Three Faces of... , 1996,
fiberglass; video disc; electronic playback gear, sphere: 18 in.; 45.72 cm
Museum purchase with funds from the Collectors' Circle for Contemporary Art, 1998.49.A-C

Oursler takes as his subject matter the contemporary media-obsessed human psyche, fashioning mini-dramas filled with sharp humor and thought-provoking irony. In The Three Faces of…, we assume the role of voyeur, looking at the image of an eye that is watching television. Oursler's source, a well-known movie about a schizophrenic, demonstrates his interest in multiple personality disorder, for which he finds an equivalent in the habit of channel surfing.

Philip Pearlstein (American, born 1924),
Kiddie Car-Plane, Airplane and Models , 1990,
oil on canvas, 60 x 72 in.
Gift of R. Crosby Kemper Jr., 1999.51

Jackson Pollock (American, 1912–1956),
Galaxy , 1947,
oil and aluminum paint on canvas, 43½ x 34, 110.49 x 86.36 cm
Gift of Peggy Guggenheim, 1949.164

Pollock is the best known artist associated with Abstract Expressionism, a movement that explored the impulses of creativity and the expression of the inner self. In 1947 Pollock made his first revolutionary “drip” paintings, among them Galaxy. These were completely abstract and a declaration that the easel tradition was dying as a significant method of picture-making. For Galaxy, Pollock set a previously completed composition on the floor and, with deliberate gestures, veiled it with poured, dripped, and spattered paint. Adding to the texture and complexity of Pollock’s surfaces is his use of unorthodox materials such as sand, gravel, and industrial aluminum paint.

Martin Puryear (American, born 1941),
Self , 1978,
polychromed red cedar and mahogany, 69 x 48 x 25 in.; 175.26 x 121.92 x 63.5 cm
Museum purchase in memory of Elinor Ashton, 1980.63

Self is an outstanding example of the artist's concern for the underlying forces that govern the formal geometries of abstract sculpture. Although built of thin layers over a hollow core, the piece looks solid and heavy--like an immense stone jutting out of the earth.

Kay Sage (American, 1898-1963),
Men Working , 1951,
oil on canvas, 45 x 35 in.; 114.3 x 88.9 cm
Museum Purchase, 1994.19

Like many of Sage's paintings, Men Working merely hints at the one-time presence of humans, displaying the detritus of lived experience as evidence. In portraying haunting worlds that leave interpretation in the viewer's hands, sage draws on the mind's capacity to blur the distinction between what is real and what is imagined.

Miriam Schapiro (American, born in Canada, 1923-2015),
Vestiture: Paris Series #2 , 1979,
acrylic and fabric on canvas, 60 x 50 1/4 in.; 152.4 x 127.635 cm
Gift of Barbara Gladstone, 1984.53

Labeling her work "femmage," Schapiro incorporates pieces of fabric, lace, quilting, and other handcrafted items into her paintings to call attention to their traditional associations with women.  This delicate piece, composed of ornate textiles and acrylic paint, belongs to Schapiro’s Vestiture series, which reflects on gender inequities in the history of costume design.

George Segal (American, born 1924),
Times Square at Night , 1970,
light, plaster, wood, plastic and electrical parts, 108 x 96 x 108 in.; 182.88 x 66.04 x 66.04 cm
Museum purchase, 1973.95; Art © The George and Helen Segal Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Against the idealism and prosperity of the 1950s, the 1960s in America provided a reality check marked by a divisive war, civil rights struggles, and senseless assassinations. Visual artists, too, returned to reality — the observable and the tangible — rejecting the chauvinistic individualism of Abstract Expressionism. For Segal, this meant magnifying the heroic in the small, routine dramas of ordinary people. Working with plaster casts of individuals, he constructed tableaux dealing with such everyday environments as the diner, the bus stop, and the bedroom inhabited by figures who usually appear lonely, weary, or distracted. An effective example of his expressive sculptures, Times Square at Night shows two men moving silently down a street where a pancake house is neighbor to an adult movie theatre.

Roger Shimomura (American, 1939-),
Untitled , 1985,
acrylic on canvas, 60 x 72 in.; 152.4 x 182.88 cm
Museum Purchase with funds provided by the friends of Jerome I. Cohn, 1999.35

Shimomura brings together contemporary American and traditional Japanese culture, examining the political, social, and aesthetic forces that influence both. Using imagery culled from each society, he creates symbolically-rich paintings and prints that layer recognizable pictorial information with his own personal observations, resulting in works that are complicated, strange, and often unsettling. 

Jennifer Steinkamp (American, b. 1958),
Judy Crook, 2 , 2012,
single-channel digital video projection,
Museum purchase, bequest of Rose Marie Baumgarten, 2013.10

Pat Steir (American, born 1938),
Morning Tree , 1983,
oil on canvas, 60 x 180 in.; 152.4 x 457.2 cm
In memory of Betty Kraft Mann and Ruth Rosinsky Sokolof, 1985.2abc

Morning Tree combines the beauty of the cherry blossoms with an analytical approach. Its lush pink shades and thick strokes of paint provide a sensuous picture of flowers and branches that can be read from left to right with the image becoming increasingly large and abstract.

Daryl Trivieri (American, 1957-),
Direction of the Same , 1989,
acrylic on canvas, 10 x 14 in.; 25.4 x 35.56 cm
Gift of the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection - Fifty Works for Fifty States, 2009.39

Richard Tuttle (American, 1941-),
Mesa , 1995,
gouache, pencil, silver, blue and pink glitter, clear liquid adhesive on two seamed sheets, 23 1/4 x 17 in.; 59.06 x 43.18 cm
Gift of the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection - Fifty Works for Fifty States, 2009.42

Richard Van Buren (American, 1937),
Untitled , 1971-1972,
Polyester resin fiberglass with dyed paper, pigment, multi-hued glitter inclusions, 23 3/4 x 16 x 2 3/8 in.; 60.33 x 40.64 x 6.03 cm
Gift of the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection - Fifty Works for Fifty States, 2009.50

John Walker (English, born 1939),
Untitled , 1983-84,
oil and encaustic on canvas, 95 3/4 x 120 1/2 in.; 243.205 x 306.07 cm
gift of Phil Schrager, 1996.1

Tom Wesselmann (American, 1931-2004),
Bedroom painting #25 , 1971 (1967-1971),
oil on raw linen canvas, 96 1/4 x 120 1/4 in.; 244.48 x 305.44 cm
Museum purchase with the aid of funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1982.62; Art © Estate of Tom Wesselmann/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Wesselmann’s work, like that of the other Pop artists, captures both the glory and seedy underbelly of American consumer culture. Wesselmann focused his attention on the increasing commercialization of sexual imagery during the 1960s. The collage-like still life in Bedroom Painting #25 includes many clichés of a romantic rendezvous — ripe fruit, flowers, a leopard-skin rug, red curtains, and a nude figure.  Rendering everything in the same bold outlines and flat color palette, Wesselmann stresses the overlap between utilitarian objects and those related to desire.

Andrew Wyeth (American, 1917-2009),
Half Bushel , 1959,
watercolor on paper, 21 11/16 x 30 in.; 55.08 x 76.2 cm
Museum purchase, 1960.271

Half Bushel stems from the artist’s many memories of sun-dappled days in the apple orchard on his father’s property.  Devoid of reference to any specific geographic locale, Wyeth’s rich, russet work calls to mind the sensation of a crisp autumn day.