The art of Hans Hofmann, a towering figure among postwar New York School painters, is the subject of the exhibition Walls of Color: The Murals of Hans Hofmann. Famous for his push/pull spatial theories and dynamic approach to color, Hofmann was not only a revered painter, but also the most important teacher and theoretician of the Abstract Expressionist movement. The complex structures of Hofmann’s abstract canvases explode with vivid hues, each work a distinct expression of his highly evolved “Search for the Real,” the title of his influential books of essays of 1948.
Walls of Color is the first exhibition to focus on Hans Hofmann’s vibrant and varied, yet underappreciated, public mosaic projects through his paintings, mosaic studies, and drawings. Incorporating a number of the finest examples of the artist’s contemporaneous easel paintings, in addition to key paintings leading up to and following his mural work, the exhibition demonstrates the continuity and evolution of Hofmann’s oeuvre.
The centerpiece of Walls of Color is nine oil studies by Hofmann, each seven feet tall, made for the proposed redesign of the Peruvian city of Chimbote. This was Hofmann’s extraordinary collaboration, in 1950, with Catalan architect José Luis Sert – the man who designed the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris World’s Fair in 1937, for which Picasso’s great mural Guernica was painted. Visionary and never realized, the town center of Chimbote was to include a huge mosaic wall designed by Hofmann, which would incorporate not only his own highly evolved notions of Abstract Expressionist visual dynamics, but also forms symbolic of traditional Peruvian culture, religion and history.
Hofmann also created two huge public murals in Manhattan, now nearly forgotten. In 1956, in collaboration with the noted pioneer modernist architect William Lescaze, he created an astonishing, brilliantly colored mosaic mural, wrapped around the elevator bank in the lobby of 711 Third Avenue. Two years later, Hofmann was commissioned by the New York City Board of Education to create a 64-foot long, 11-foot tall mosaic-tile mural for the High School of Printing (now the High School of Graphic Arts Communication) on West 49th Street.
The Ackland is the third and final venue for the national tour of Walls of Color. The exhibition was organized by the Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut, with the support of the Renate, Hans and Maria Hofmann Trust, and was most recently on view at the Frost Art Museum at Florida International University, Miami.
To the travelling exhibition, the Ackland is adding four works of art, including the Museum’s own Hans Hofmann, Undulating Expanse from 1955, as well as three 1942 works by Hofmann: one from the North Carolina Museum of Art and two from the private collections of UNC-Chapel Hill alumnae.
Walls of Color is presented at the Ackland with support from the Renate, Hans and Maria Hofmann Trust, John and Marree Townsend, the Fenwick Foundation, and gifts made in honor of the Ackland Docent Program.
A scholarly catalogue for the exhibition—including a foreword from the Renate, Hans and Maria Hofmann Trust and essays by Kenneth Silver, Bruce Museum Adjunct Curator and New York University Professor of Modern Art, and Mary McLeod, Professor at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University—will be available for purchase at the Ackland Museum Store.
Images: Works by Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) used with permission of the Renate, Hans, and Maria Hofmann Trust.
Mural Fragment (Chimbote), 1950. Oil on panel mounted on board, 83-⅞ x 35-¾ in. Photograph by Doug Young.
Maquette for Mural at the New York School of Printing, 1957. Mosaic tile set in concrete, 7-¾ x 28-⅝ x ¾ in. Collection of Charles and Elise Brown. Photograph by Paul Mutino.