Art 1959-1960

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  • The Guggenheim opens in New York City.

Image: Jasper Johns, "Two Balls," (1959)
Johns articulates the mood of ambivalence towards the emblematic machismo and the impulsive act of the action artist associated with Abstract Expressionism.
- Aldona Dziedziejko

Image: Hans Hoffman, "The Gate" (1959-60)

Image:Josef Albers, "Homage to the Square apparition," (1959)

Night Journeys, Cold Wars, 1946/1959: Lee Krasner’s Large Painting Series

In 1959 Lee Krasner tacked an eighteen-foot canvas to her studio wall, climbed a slim wooden ladder and in the absence of daylight produced a squall of dark, quick strokes, circles and broken lines, a multitude of eyes and their silhouettes. Moving away from working in collage and exploring dissonant colour Krasner produced what came to be known as the Night Journeys (1959-60), the predominantly umber, black and white series that included large-scale pieces with such as "Night Watch," "The Eye is the First Circle," and "The Gate." The Night Journeys would be seen as a retreat to a full-blown Action-Painting for Krasner, one of the original members of the New York School. What was at stake for Krasner in her reenactment?

- Aldona Dziedziejko

Photos: Lee Krasner in her studio (1959)


  • Milan, September-December 1959. Piero Manzoni leaves the Nuclearist group to found the short-lived gallery 'Azimut' and journal 'Azimuth' with friend Enrico Castellani. This is generally cast as the formative moment in which Manzoni makes a decided shift from more figurative and painterly modes of expression. While this is more or less accurate, I have argued against such a definitive rupture. Nevertheless, there was a dramatic shift in Manzoni's strategies. -Carla Benzan
  • December, 1959. The new art space 'Azimut' in Milan was inaugerated with a show of Manzoni's Linee which were produced throughout the fall of 1959. Interest in the show garners a review in 'Corriere della Sera' by critic Lorenzo Borghese. He writes at one point in the review: "But afterall, you all, without recurring to the xrays without even seeing them, the tubes could flash a little with the brain and see with the mind all the other eleven sublime lines, sublime lines, rather maybe of space to one to two to three to four dimensions etc. Of the horizon, of azimut, maybe of an interplanetary voyage, of artificial satellites, of time, maybe, of infinity, infinity according to the ancient Greeks, of infinity finished according to the philosophers, and modern scientists." (Translation mine.) Lorenzo Borghese, "Il Pittore," La Corriere della Sera, December 16, 1959. -Carla Benzan
  • Milan, June 1960: Azimut exhibition of Manzoni's work, Corpi d'Aria.
  • Milan, 1960: Manzoni produces a private series of 13 ink drawings reminiscent of his earlier paintings of humanoid figures produced while working with the Nuclearists and Enrico Baj in the 50s. The series raises issues of cross-species insemination and gestation, mechanization and hybridization of mankind, space age technologies, apocalypses, domesticity, bourgeois repression, and Americanization. I consider this series at length in my research, particularly in relationship to other artworks by Manzoni and his contemporaries, as well as a number of key films of the period. I believe the series was produced privately and given to a friend or family member. It was not exhibited at the time, and remains largely undiscussed. -Carla Benzan
  • Milan, July 1960: Manzoni's performance The Consumption of Art by the Art-Devouring Public is the final event organized at Azimut (although it actually took place at another venue). The performance takes place over 70 minutes. Manzoni boils 70 eggs, fingerprints them, places them in wooden boxes and gives them out to the attendees who eat them.

Michelangelo Pistoletto, who would become a major player in the Arte Povera movement of the late 1960s, was beginning to interrogate representational painting without completely rejecting that tradition. From this period there are a number of interesting self-portraits that use gold, silver, oil and acrylic. They depict the artist lifesize on relatively flat abstracted plane of colour or metal.
Gold Self-Portrait, 1960 oil, acrylic and gold on canvas, cm 200 x 150
Fondazione Pistoletto, Biella
Photo: P. Pellion

Pistoletto wrote in 1959:
  • “At the crossroads between abstraction and representation, where I think every young painter today has passed or remained, I chose the representation of humans, because I feel it best suited to realizing my need to express particular feelings and situations of the human condition, what for me is the most vital and burning issue of all time” (Michelangelo Pistoletto, catalogue of the exhibition, Premio Morgan’s Paint, Palazzo dell’Arengo, Rimini 1959).
On his production from this period:
  • "The subjects of the 1958 self-portraits are painted full-figure and life-size. The relationship between the subject and the surrounding space compelled the artist to come to grips with the making of the background. In this same year Pistoletto had his first contract with a gallery, Galatea in Turin, and won the San Fedele Prize in Milan."
And he reflected on this period in his formation in relation to the movie Avventura by Antonioni:
  • “Renaissance art is the basis of my work’s entire evolution. I really had a revelation in front of Piero della Francesca’s Flagellation [a work the artist saw at eighteen, during a visit with his father to the Ducal Palace in Urbino]. The conflict between abstraction and representation was raging at the time. It was the hot topic, the great debate of the moment. But in front of that painting I understood that Piero della Francesca was both abstract and representational. I saw that the problem was another one entirely, or at least that it had not been expressed clearly. I felt, then, that this painting offered me a grand solution. I got a similar impression from Antonioni’s Avventura. It’s clearly a film with characters; nonetheless, it’s an abstract film. I cite only two important works of Italian art. Antonioni’s film isn’t a painting, but in a certain sense it’s painting made of light and images, a film that shows the point of convergence between abstraction and representation, the point that was already there in Piero della Francesca” (Michelangelo Pistoletto, interview with Giovanni Lista, in Ligeia, nos. 25-28, Paris 1999).



  • I ran across an avant-garde film that sounds interesting. Window Water Baby Moving is 13 minute film of the entire process of the birth of his first child. Directed by Stan Brakhage. See: Although this blog cites 1959, IMDB lists WWBM as being released in 1962.
  • The IMDB lists another film for 1959: Sirius Remembered. One disgusted viewer on the site describes it as using early 16mm handheld to honor the director's pet. It apparently loops back certain scenes. It follows the dog in life, and his decomposition in death.
  • On a similar theme, IMDB also lists a film that Brakhage released in 1960 The Dead which starred Kenneth Anger as himself and was filmed in a cemetery in Paris.

Yves Klein short film:

Anthropometries of the Blue Period and Fire Paintings: Two Performances (1960)

R. G. Davis founded the San Francisco Mime Troupe in 1959 with the goal of advancing a radical political agenda through satirical public performance. The Troupe drew from a range of divergent theatrical models, including the commedia del'arte, Artaud's "Theatre of Cruelty" and Brecht's "Epic Theatre," and incorporated jazz music compositions.

Source: Bernstein and Rockwell, The San Francisco Tape Music Center: 1960s Counterculture and the Avant-Garde.