Action, Gesture, Paint

Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940-70

Abstract forms such as stripes, implied rectangles, egg shapes and surfaces in different colors. Partly the colors overlap, some shapes are painted quickly and look very moved.
Wook-kyung Choi, Untitled, 1960s, Acrylic on canvas, 102 x 137cm, Arte Collectum, Copyright: Wook-kyung Choi

With an international exhibition cooperation, Kunsthalle Bielefeld presents an extensive global show that for the first time in Europe focuses on the work of female artists and their role in the development of abstraction after 1945. The movement we now describe as “Abstract Expressionism” officially began in the mid-20th century in the United States. But around the world, artists* explored parallel approaches to abstraction through materiality, expressivity, and gesture, from Informel to Arte Povera, from calligraphic abstraction and Gutai in East Asia to experimental, deeply political practices in Central and South America, North Africa, and the Middle East.

The exhibited artists did not work in a vacuum. The following graphic illustrates the worldwide networking of female artists with each other, with their male colleagues and with the international spread of abstraction. The map is an interactive representation of over 80 artists’ biographies from the exhibition catalog Action – gesture – color. Women artists and abstraction 1940-1970.

 

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The round elements and the connections can be clicked on and viewed using various search and filter tools, directly here in the small version or as a full-screen version.

Following the avant-garde movements of Expressionism and Surrealism, these artists completely redefined creative practice as an immersive arena for action, process, and consciousness. Their paintings were not seen as images, but as events, and became catalysts for ideas in aesthetics, poetry, philosophy, and politics. Despite their essential role in the development of abstraction, the contribution of female artists in particular has been insufficiently appreciated by art history. In addition to works by well-known names such as Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, and Lee Krasner, the exhibition also presents positions from the global South and East that have so far been less well-known in the West. The exhibition is produced in cooperation with the Whitechapel Gallery, London and the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles.

A square logo consisting of the text
The exhibition is sponsored by the Foundation for Art + Culture Dr. Dagmar Nowitzki
The exhibition is sponsored by the Kunststiftung NRW.

You can delve even deeper into the exhibition theme with our KB Journal articles below.

Gallerie

Atmospherically lit exhibition room of the Kunsthalle. On the right wall, a large painting created by rapid movements with a brush. Green and black. On the left wall, a landscape format with simple shapes. At the back, a portrait format in orange and red.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
In front of a painting containing cut-out paper triangles in ochre, orange, brown and pink, a vaguely recognizable figure wearing black trousers and a light-coloured top moves around.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
Three abstract paintings hang on a white wall. On the left is a landscape format in shades of green, in the middle a small dark portrait format with splashes of color, on the right a larger portrait format in bright shades of white and yellow that appears to show a table with glasses.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
View into an exhibition room with wooden parquet flooring and white walls. In the foreground is an orange-colored pedestal with an angled monitor. View of two walls: the one at the back with three graphic-looking works with only one dark color. On the right, two works with a surface structured by different materials.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
In the foreground, an orange plinth with a slanted monitor showing a hand reaching upwards. Behind it on the wall is a painting in landscape format with a very dark color and only a few areas of color in ochre, orange, red and white. It is slightly reminiscent of an animal head, perhaps a pig from a comic strip.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
View of two exhibition walls and a corner of the room. On the left wall, a seemingly silvery motif on a cream-colored canvas, on the right wall a portrait format in dark but somehow glowing shades of red and green, to the right a landscape format with a light yellow cloud shape on which numerous brown, green, blue and other rather dark shapes are recognizable.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
A rather large portrait format hangs on a white wall. Paint has been poured onto the unprimed canvas. The resulting brown, ochre and light blue areas create the impression of a standing female figure. On a wall further back are two other smaller works in darker colors.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
View of two walls. On the left, two small paintings on top of each other with lots of grey, but also cheerful, bright, more angular areas of color. On the other wall, a portrait format with two upright abstract creatures in warm shades of orange, red and ochre against a dark background.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
View of several exhibition rooms in the Kunsthalle. On the left wall are two small paintings or drawings with wildly painted shapes in dark blue or grey colors and a few blue and ochre shapes against a light background. To the right of the wall, a view into two other rooms one behind the other, where there is an orange pedestal with a small black monitor on it, and behind it a very large painting with a few poured areas of color. At the very back and quite small, another painting with thick black lines and lots of light gray is visible.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
View into three rooms of the Kunsthalle Bielefeld. In the middle is a wall with two larger works and in the middle a smaller work with abstract, very colorful motifs. On the far left is a small black and white work. To the right, a view of a larger portrait format in red and ochre tones against a light background. On the far right, a very large landscape format with a few simple squares and circles in friendly colors on a light canvas.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
Exhibition room of the Kunsthalle with plenty of parquet flooring. In the foreground is an orange plinth with a monitor showing two people in black and white, holding on to one arm and balancing. Behind them on the wall to the left is a landscape format with wild swirls of color, mainly in shades of red and black. To the right is an extreme portrait format in shades of green, looking a bit like a Big I with a hat.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
Exhibition room. In front an orange pedestal with a monitor, behind on the wall four paintings of different sizes with quite a large proportion of black. Mostly connected shapes painted with a thick brush.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
View from one exhibition room into another. Two colorful abstract paintings with shades of grey, blue and orange on the left wall in front. On the right wall, a delicate grid structure in black on a white background. In the distance, a rather large landscape format with simple shapes.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
View into two rooms of the Kunsthalle with colorful paintings. In the background, an orange pedestal with a monitor.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
Atmospherically lit exhibition room of the Kunsthalle. On the right wall, a large painting created by rapid movements with a brush. Green and black. On the left wall, a landscape format with simple shapes. At the back, a portrait format in orange and red.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
Two walls in the Kunsthalle Bielefeld. On the left wall is a very large square with a few areas of color in blue and ochre on unprimed canvas. Next to it is a square work with larger shapes outlined in black. To the right on the wall is a vertical format, almost exclusively blue, a little yellow, and to the right a large horizontal format with simple forms in friendly colors.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
View from the staircase into the main room on the second floor of the Kunsthalle. Shiny parquet flooring, an orange plinth with a monitor in the middle of the room. Large-format abstract paintings on the walls, painted quite dynamically.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
Two young women look at a picture painted with a broad brush.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
A passageway. On the right wall, a square painting in dark green. Two smaller ones on the left. The one on the left in earth tones, the one on the right with a collage of materials and a handmade wooden frame. In the room behind it, a painting with moving colors, lots of yellow, many splashes of other colors.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
A corner of the room with a passageway in the art gallery. On the left wall, a square yellow painting with a brown egg shape at the top left. On the right wall two square paintings with lots of black, red, orange and brown.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
First on the left wall is a glazed work with a dark structure behind it, like a relief. A yellow, square painting with an egg shape at the top left is reflected in the glass.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
A white wall with three paintings. On the left, two very similar ones with a delicate white structure surrounded by a dark brown surface. On the right, at a distance, a vertical format with more yellowish-green splashes of color.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
View of three walls in the Kunsthalle. On the left, a very colorful, wild horizontal format with streaks of color, then two square canvases with a more yellow motif and a light blue one. Behind it is a work with triangular shapes in ochre, brown, orange and white.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
Exhibition room with a view of the Kunsthalle
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
Orange plinth in front of a sandstone half-column. On it a monitor with a drawn woman in bust view. On the wall to the right is a small painting in shades of yellow. View of a leafless tree in the snow in the park.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
Exhibition room of the Kunsthalle. On the wall to the right are two larger paintings in shades of yellow, red and black. A monitor on a pedestal. View of the wintry sculpture park.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
View into two rooms of the Kunsthalle. On the right wall in front, a large square painting in yellow-orange and yellow-green. On the left, a large and a small painting in similar colors.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
View into two rooms of the Kunsthalle. Striking: We are looking at the end of a wall with a sandstone edge. To the left is a large room with several large paintings. Abstract, painted with great movement. To the right is a dark green vertical format, smaller.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
Exhibition room of the Kunsthalle. On the wall to the right is an abstract painting with lots of black, blue, green and orange. To the left is a sandstone half-column. Further back, an exhibition room with a dark green and a dark gray painting.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
Corner of a large exhibition room. On the right, a large square painting with enormously broad brushstrokes and cheerful shades of yellow, orange and darker green. On the left wall are two paintings: one a kind of red spiral, the other a wild interplay of many splashes of color.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer
Four paintings on a white wall. On the left a lot of blue and some red, next to it more yellow, then a darker one in shades of blue, on the far right a light painting in darker shades of red, green and orange that looks as if it has been spotted.
Action, Gesture, Paint. Women artists and abstraction worldwide 1940–70. Installation view. Photo: Philipp Ottendörfer