New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art is set to open Spilling Over: Painting Color. The collection gathers paintings from the 1960s and early 1970s that inventively use bold, saturated, and even hallucinatory color to activate perception. During this period, many artists adopted acrylic paint—a newly available, plastic-based medium—and explored its expansive technical possibilities and wider range of hues. Color Field painters poured paint and stained unprimed canvas, dramatizing painting’s materiality and visual force. Painters associated with Op art deployed pattern, geometric arrangement, and intense color combinations. At the same historical moment, an emerging generation of artists explored color’s capacity to articulate new questions about perception, specifically its relation to race, gender, and the coding of space. The exhibition looks to the divergent ways color can be equally a formal problem and a political statement.
The title of the show is taken from a quote by Thompson, who shortly before his death in 1966 said, “I paint many paintings that tell me slowly that I have something inside of me that is just bursting, twisting, sticking, spilling over to get out. Out into souls and mouths and eyes that have never seen before.” Spilling Over: Painting Color demonstrates why and how painting could still matter for artists who wanted to see anew. The retrospective opens March 29 and runs through the summer.