David Kordansky Gallery is pleased to announce a solo presentation at Frieze Masters of major works by Sam Gilliam. A seminal figure in postwar American art, Gilliam has, over the course of five decades, consistently introduced formal innovations that have transformed the relationship between abstract painting and the contexts in which it is viewed. The presentation will focus on a six-year period from 1967 to 1973, during which he generated some of his most important breakthroughs, and will mark the first time the gallery has shown examples of the installation-based, stretcherless Drape paintings for which the artist is best known.
Born in 1933 in Tupelo, Mississippi, Gilliam has long been associated with Washington, D.C., where he has lived and worked since 1961. His earliest mature works were in line with the Color Field painting prominent in the nation’s capital at the time. However in the late 1960s, inspired by jazz and attuned to the social upheavals that defined the era, he soon began to experiment with the material properties of painting in newly lyrical and expansive ways. Working without a brush, Gilliam poured acrylic paint on lengths of canvas, which he had folded or otherwise physically manipulated to create complex and vivid compositional effects. At first these stained canvases were stretched over bars with beveled edges so that they projected away from the wall and toward the viewer. But Gilliam then made the dramatic decision to dispense with stretcher bars altogether, suspending his draped canvases from the walls or the ceiling so that their colorful forms interacted directly, sculpturally, and even architecturally with the environments that contained them. In some cases he would go further, installing the painted canvases alongside found objects, and rendering moot any preconceived distinctions between two- and three-dimensional modes of artmaking; two rarely seen works of this kind will be on view in the booth.
Gilliam's revolutionary approach during this crucial phase of his development introduced an expanded sense of possibility to his medium, especially at a moment when Minimalism was on the rise and painting's major narratives were perceived by many critics and artists alike to be taken up with a series of formal endgames. But his impact can also be felt in cultural spheres outside of painting. With these works Gilliam proved that the pursuit of abstraction did not necessarily distance an artist from the issues of his time, and that an intuitive and highly personal visual language could in fact provide a powerful means of participation and a radical way of staying open to the world.
Sam Gilliam was the subject of a major traveling retrospective organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. in 2005. Over the course of his career he has participated in numerous group exhibitions and biennials in institutions throughout the world. Over the last two years these have included Surface Tension, The FLAG Art Foundation, New York (2015); Affecting Presence and the Pursuit of Delicious Experiences, The Menil Collection, Houston (2015); Represent: 200 Years of African-American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art (2015); Pretty Raw: After and Around Helen Frankenthaler and New Acquisitions, The Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts (2015); and Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties, organized by the Brooklyn Museum (2014-15).