Alpha Sigma

  • 1961
  • Morris Louis
  • acrylic on canvas
  • 261,5 x 489,2 x 4 cm
  • Location not on view.
  • Acquired in 1968
  • Inventory number 315

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The painting 'Alpha-Sigma' by the American artist Morris Louis has a large white field in the middle. From the sides of the canvas narrow bands of paint run diagonally downwards in various colours. Their capricious course indicates that the paint was applied in liquid form and flowed down to the bottom edge of the painting. In most cases the white canvas is visible between the bands of paint. Here and there the colours touch and sometimes they merge.

Morris Louis is a representative of Modernism. This term relates to the developments in the arts from the beginning of the 20th century, which led to complete abstraction and the independence of art. The function of art was no longer to serve as a reference either to reality or to a “higher” ideal. A painting is nothing but a painting, i.e., the product of a number of artistic acts. The Modernist view is accompanied by an increasingly strong reduction in the use of visual means. It reached a high point in the American art of the 1950s and 1960s such as Minimal Art, Fundamental painting, and the post-painterly abstraction, which includes Louis. One of the characteristics of Modernist work is a non-hierarchical structure: every part of the painting requires the same amount of attention.

In the mid-1950s Louis started to concentrate above all on colour. He applied his paint greatly diluted to unprepared canvas. The paint was completely absorbed and could no longer be seen as a substance; it worked purely as colour. He used acrylic paints, a material that was relatively new in painting. It dried faster than oils and the colours are more radiant. The “Unfurleds”, paintings like 'Alpha-Sigma', were painted in 1960/61. The field in the middle remains empty and Louis had the paint flow downwards from the sides. However, the white field determines the image just as much as the bands of colour. Louis signed a work only when it was exhibited or sold, and only then did he give it a title. Many of the works were systematically assigned titles posthumously by his widow and Louis’s friend, the art critic Clement Greenberg, so that the “Unfurleds” have one or more Greek letters as a title.

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