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Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949­-1962

Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949­-1962 video still

"Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949–1962" (on view at MCA Chicago, Feb 9–May 12, 2013) focuses on one of the most significant developments in contemporary abstract painting: the artist’s literal assault on the picture plane. Responding to the physical and psychological destruction wrought by World War II—especially the existential crisis resulting from the atomic bomb—artists ripped, cut, burned, and affixed objects to the canvas in lieu of paint. "Destroy the Picture" places the work of now-established artists back into the radical context in which it originally emerged, reigniting dynamic artistic dialogues and offering an innovative and expansive view of art making in the postwar period.

This exhibition is an exploration of a generation of artists who emerged in the late forties and fifties internationally. Artists from Japan, the United States, and all over Europe were deeply and profoundly affected by World War II and it is that destruction that brought these artists together in making, what the exhibition argues, is among the first truly international art movements.

Yves Klein made an extended trip to Japan beginning in September of 1952 to study judo. He encountered something that was to leave a lasting memory and that was his visit to Hiroshima. It was that time that he saw the silhouette of a man imprinted into a rock by the atomic flash and these shadows, the use of both the figure and fire, were to have a lasting effect on Klein. His fire paintings were linked to his concept of the void. As he said, "In sum, my goal is twofold: first of all, to register the trace of human sentimentality in present-day civilization; and then, to register the trace of fire, which has engendered this very same civilization—that of the fire itself. And all of this because the void has always been my constant preoccupation . . . fires burn in the heart of the void as well as in the heart of man."