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Hans Hofmann

May 3, 2008 - August 3, 2008

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Hans Hofmann: Effervescence, 1944; oil, India ink, casein, and enamel on plywood panel; 35 7/8 x 54 3/8 in.; gift of Hans Hofmann.

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Hans Hofmann: Ecstasy, 1947; oil on canvas; 60 x 68 in.; gift of Hans Hofmann.

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Hans Hofmann: Nocturnal Splendor, 1963; oil on canvas; 60 1/8 x 72 1/4 in.; gift of Hans Hofmann.

“Hofmann's ability to handle paint, to fuse the action of painting and drawing into a single, immediate gesture, carried colored pigment into the viewer's presence with the force of a bomb. . . . Hofmann's genius lay in his ability to expand our dimensional experience of the pictorial surface.”—Frank Stella, 1999

A cornerstone of the Berkeley Art Museum collection is an extraordinary group of paintings by Hans Hofmann (1880–1966), the world’s most extensive museum collection of this German-born artist’s work. The exhibition on view in Gallery A draws on this collection to span nearly thirty years of Hofmann’s practice, from the figurative works of the 1930s to the explosive abstraction of the postwar period.

Hofmann was a key contributor to the evolution of mid-twentieth-century American art, both as a painter and as a teacher. At his art schools in New York and Provincetown, Massachusetts, he influenced an astounding array of young artists; among his students were the painters Burgoyne Diller, Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner, and Larry Rivers. The critic Clement Greenberg referred to Hofmann’s Greenwich Village school as a vortex of influence in the burgeoning art scene of the 1930s and 1940s, “a major fountainhead of style and ideas for the ‘new’ American painting.”

The works on view reveal the development of Hofmann’s distinctive and highly influential artistic vocabulary. In the later works we see his signature bold color blocks emerge from and recede into energetic surfaces of intersecting and overlapping shapes, echoing the spatial structure of his still lifes of the mid-1930s. As if unleashed from objective time and place and on the verge of independent life, phenomena of color, plane, light, and space “push and pull” (in Hofmann’s famous expression) to the surface.