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Photo of clippings in a display case in 1959 exhibition
1959 exhibition display case

The Top 5 Art Moments of 1959

With the current CSM exhibition devoted to Clyfford Still’s 1959 exhibition at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, let’s look at five major art world events that also occurred during that year:

1. The first public “Happening,” Eighteen Happenings in Six Parts, was presented by Allan Kaprow at the Reuben Gallery in New York in the fall of 1959. Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg were among the performers.

Allan Kaprow, Eighteen Happenings in Six Parts, Reuban Gallery, New York, 1959.

2. At the first Paris Biennial, Yves Klein, Pierre Restany, Jean Tinguely, Raymond Hains, Jacques de la Villeglé, and François Dufrêne were in the selection, an essential step in the formation of the Nouveau réalisme (New realism) movement.

Raymond Hains, Travaillerurs Commusnistes, 1959. Musee d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona © Estate of Raymond Hains

3. Robert Rauschenberg painted his masterpiece Canyon, perhaps Rauschenberg’s greatest (and now infamous) “Combine” painting, now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. This work was recently embroiled in controversy due to the artist’s use of a taxidermied bald eagle, now prohibited by Federal law.

Robert Rauschenberg, Canyon, 1959. © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

4. Jasper Johns painted False Start, a work whose structure and paint handling has curious similarities to some Abstract Expressionist works (particularly Clyfford Still’s). In Johns’ work, he questions basic ideas about seeing and meaning by stenciling words of colors painted in contradictory colors on top of another contradictory color (for example, on the left side the word “orange” is stenciled in white over a red field), asking viewers to decide which is more “real.”

Jasper Johns, False Start, 1959. Collection of Kenneth and Anne Griffin / © Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

5. Frank Stella began his series of Black Paintings, announcing the beginnings of Minimalism and a considerable departure from the mythic, grandiose ideas of Abstract expressionism. A selection of these works was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s important exhibition, Sixteen Americans, also in 1959. The work shown below, Jill, is currently on exhibit at the Denver Art Museum in the Modern Masters show.

Frank Stella, Jill, 1959. © Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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