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Exhibition Title

Aktion – Geste – Farbe
 - Künstlerinnen und Abstraktion 1940-1970

Action, Gesture, Color - Women Artists and Abstraction Worldwide 1940-1970

02.12.23 - 03.03.24
Kunsthalle Bielefeld


Press Release

With the exhibition “Action, Gesture, Color: Women Artists and Abstraction Worldwide 1940-1970”, the Kunsthalle Bielefeld is paying tribute from December 2, 2023 until March 3, 2024 an extraordinary generation of female artists. As the first exhibition of its kind in Europe, it brings together more than 100 paintings by over 70 international, today often little-known female artists who helped shape and define gestural, abstract painting in the mid-20th century.
Gestural painting, known in Europe as “Informel” and in the United States as “abstract expressionism”, refers to an art movement that has been associated with a number of major artists in metropolitan cities such as New York and Paris. The exhibition aims to break down this art-historical understanding and expand it to include an international and feminist perspective.
On display are works by well-known female artists, including the Americans Lee Krasner (1908-1984) and Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011), the Austrian artist Maria Lassnig and the Portuguese Maria Helena Vieria da Silva, as well as previously unknown positions such as the Mozambican-Italian artist Bertina Lopes (1924-2012) and the South Korean artist Wook-kyung Choi (1940-1985). The Kunsthalle Bielefeld is also focusing on German women artists from the Informel movement, including Sigrid Kopfermann (1923-2011), Sarah Schumann (1933-2019) and Detmold-born Hedwig Thun (1892-1969), to whom the Kunsthalle dedicated a solo exhibition back in 1969.
At a time when the world was coming to terms with the anxieties of the Second World War and operating against the backdrop of a deeply conflicted political and social climate, artists around the world were moving away from figurative painting and looking for a new form of artistic expression. In the West in particular, gestural abstraction was seen as art that embodied the ideals of a free democratic world. Abstraction thus established itself as an expression of personal and political liberation and was seen as a signpost to a freer and fairer world.
Following the avant-garde movements of Expressionism and Surrealism, these artists have revolutionized the way they create art. They regarded the creative process as something that goes far beyond the mere creation of works of art: paint as a material becomes the actual object in its composition and the way it is applied to the canvas in the first place. Paintings are no longer seen as pictures, but as events.
In abstract expressionist/informal painting, the gesture directly connects the body and the work. From the very beginning, there was a proximity to dance and performance as areas in which women were active as role models. Many of the artists were activists, dancers and performers themselves or were inspired by them. This reciprocal relationship is made clear in the exhibition through selected video works. All these works now come together in the Kunsthalle Bielefeld in a location that also offers a historically appropriate architectural setting: “The Kunsthalle Bielefeld, which was designed and built in 1968, the same period in which most of the works in the exhibition were created, represents a similar paradigm shift,” emphasizes Christina Végh, Director and Co-Curator, Kunsthalle Bielefeld. “The open floor plan of the building, which does not give visitors any direction, shows parallels to gestural abstraction, which does not attempt to direct the viewer’s gaze. Rarely is it possible to experience architecture and art in such a close fusion.” The exhibition is produced in cooperation with the Whitechapel Gallery, London and the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles.

Laura Rehme, Christina Végh

This traveling exhibition is an initiative of the Whitechapel Gallery in London by Iwona Blazwick and Laura Smith. It was designed by a curatorial advisory board including Iwona Blazwick, Margaux Bonopera, Bice Curiger, Christian Levett, Erin Li, Julia Marchand, Joan Marter, Laura Rehme, Agustin Perez Rubio, Elizabeth Smith, Laura Smith, Candy Stobbs and Christina Végh.

Exhibition Catalog
The exhibition is accompanied by a German/English catalog that presents over 80 abstract artists, including the American artists Lee Krasner (1908-1984) and Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) as well as lesser-known figures such as the Mozambican-Italian artist Bertina Lopes (1924-2012) and the South Korean artist Wook-kyung Choi (1940-1985). With contributions by Griselda Pollock, Elizabeth A. T. Smith, Iwona Blazwick, Christina Végh, Laura Rehme and others.
Price: 50 Euro

The exhibition is sponsored by the Ministry of Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia and the Dr. Dagmar Nowitzki Foundation for Art and Culture. Exhibition Page