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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

© Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY,
American, 1903 - 1974
Oil on linen

90 x 72 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Bequest of Caroline Wiess Law

Arts of North America

Adolph Gottlieb was one of the foremost proponents of Abstract Expressionism. Like many artists of his generation, in the 1930s he participated in the U.S. government's WPA Federal Art Project. Influenced by the èmigrè Surrealists who sought refuge in New York during World War II, Gottlieb explored a new abstract language, one loaded with mystical and mythological content.  

In the mid-1950s Gottlieb began to oppose closed and open forms, a motif that evolved into the famous Bursts that many view as the culmination of his career. Gottlieb reduced his composition to two essential components: a radiant red circle floating above a lively maze of large black brushstrokes. The rival forms one serene and heavenly, the other turbulent and expressive have been seen to represent essential pairs such as order and chaos, female and male, or heaven and earth. Charged with emotional resonance, Penumbra shows Gottlieb at the height of his powers.