PIONEERING PAINTER Ed Clark, 93, has joined Hauser & Wirth. A vital figure in post-war American painting and Abstract Expressionism, Clark has been based in New York and Paris over the course of his seven-decade career. Currently, he lives and works in Detroit.

Hauser & Wirth shared news of its worldwide representation of Clark in July and in the announcement stated that “his experimentations with pure color, abstract form, and the seductive materiality of paint have yielded an oeuvre of remarkable originality, extending the language of American abstraction.”

In September, the gallery plans an exhibition with Clark in New York City featuring paintings made over the past decade.

“We are excited to further explore Clark’s place in the trajectory of expressive and inventive abstraction, a history that flows from such gallery artists as Arshile Gorky and Philip Guston, through Jack Whitten to Mark Bradford and other new-generation masters,” Hauser & Wirth Partner and Vice President Marc Payot said in a statement.

CLARK WAS LIVING IN PARIS when he turned to abstraction. Early on, he distinguished himself among his post-war peers with new methods and inventive approaches. He was in the French capital in 1956, when he sought a means to move paint with more momentum and across a wider area than possible with an ordinary paint brush.

The solution was a janitor’s push broom, a tool that enabled grand gestures. Using a broom, Clark began making some of the work he is most recognized for, paintings defined generous strokes of bold color full of energy, movement, and drama.

A year later, he was living in New York when he desired to work beyond the traditional rectangular canvas and began experimenting with different shapes. Clark is credited with being the first to adopt and show the landmark innovation. The artist publicly displayed his first shaped canvas in a group show at Brata Gallery in 1957. Clark was a co-founder of the artist-run cooperative in the East Village along with Al Held, Yayoi Kusama, and Ron Bladen.

More than a decade elapsed before Clark made his first oval-shaped canvas. The oval form emerged in 1968 and became the most prominent among his shaped canvases. He was in France again. This time in Vetheuil. “The Big Egg” (1968) an oval-shaped painting with horizontal fields of color was made that same year and is now in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, where it is currently on view in the Washington, D.C., museum’s visual art exhibition.

“We are excited to further explore Clark’s place in the trajectory of expressive and inventive abstraction, a history that flows from such gallery artists as Arshile Gorky and Philip Guston, through Jack Whitten to Mark Bradford and other new-generation masters.”
— Hauser & Wirth Partner and Vice President Marc Payot


EDWARD CLARK, “Winter Bitch,” 1959 (acrylic on canvas, 77 × 77 inches / 195.6 × 195.6 cm). | Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee and partial gift of the artist. © Ed Clark

 

BORN IN NEW ORLEANS in 1926, Clark was and raised in Chicago. When he came of age, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, serving in Guam and Saipan, in the Northern Mariana Islands, during World War II. After his military service (about 26 months), Clark used the GI Bill to attend the Art Institute of Chicago (1947-1951) and the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris (1952).

Throughout the decades, the artist divided his time between New York and Paris, and also spent extended periods in Mexico, Brazil, North Africa, and Greece. Today, he is based in Detroit.

Clark has a longstanding exhibition history. In Detroit, he began showing with George R. N’Namdi in 1981. The artist had solo shows at Jazzonia, N’Namdi’s first Detroit gallery and later at George R. N’Namdi Gallery in the city. Clark’s work was also shown at N’Namdi spaces in Birmingham, Mich., and Chicago.

In 2016, exhibitions were presented at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Detroit and, for the first time, at N’Namdi Contemporary in Miami, which is operated by the George’s son, Jumaane N’Namdi.

Dating back to the late 1970s, Clark has been supported by black-owned art galleries. In addition to N’Namdi’s galleries, the artist has had exhibitions with Peg Alston Fine Arts (NYC), Alitash Kebede Fine Arts (Los Angeles), Wilmer Jennings Gallery (Kenkeleba House, NYC), Bill Hodges Gallery (NYC), Cinque Gallery (NYC), Parrish Gallery (Washington, D.C.), and Stella Jones Gallery (New Orleans), among others.

Internationally, he has shown in Paris and Germany. In the United States, highlights include solo shows at Donald Judd’s Loft in New York in 1971 and The Mistake Room in Los Angeles in 2014. In between, his exhibition schedule included a variety of venues, university galleries among them. Several years ago, Prospect.3 in New Orleans (2014-15) featured his work at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

The Studio Museum in Harlem presented “Ed Clark: A Complex Identity” in 1980, the artist’s first museum retrospective, and in Florida, the Pensacola Museum of Art organized “Ed Clark: For the Sake of the Search,” a 60-year retrospective of the artist in 2007.

Tilton Gallery hosted “Edward Clark: Big Bang” in 2014. Curated by David Hammons, the show included works by Yayoi Kusama, Joan Mitchell (1925-1992), and Donald Judd (1928-1994), three of Clark’s longtime artist friends. A second exhibition was staged at Tilton in 2017. Last year, Mnuchin Gallery presented “Ed Clark: A Survey,” and published an accompanying catalog. The exhibition was billed as the first overview of Clark’s career in New York City in nearly five decades, since his Studio Museum show.

 


ED CLARK, “The Big Egg,” 1968 (acrylic paint on canvas, 64 1/2 x 83 inches / 163.8 x 210.8 cm). | Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Object No. 2013.125ab. © Ed Clark

 

CLARK IS REPRESENTED in many public and private collections. The artist’s work is featured on the cover of the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Luncheon, a London-based culture magazine. Inside, a 10-page feature is mostly illustrated with Clark’s paintings with a page and a half essay by artist Glenn Ligon, who concentrates on the touchstones of the elder artist’s career.

The Studio Museum in Harlem, Ligon writes, “currently has one of the largest public holdings of Clark’s work, with one painting, a 1982 canvas from the Taos series, donated by his good friend the artist David Hammons. In those years when his work was not being widely collected it was black artists, black art patrons and black institutions that [kept] him afloat, buoying his practice both spiritually, intellectually and financially.”

“In those years when his work was not being widely collected it was black artists, black art patrons and black institutions that [kept] him afloat, buoying his practice both spiritually, intellectually and financially.”
— Glenn Ligon

The Museum of Modern Art acquired its first and only Clark painting, “Untitled” (2009), through a gift in 2014. The Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) recently added Clark’s work to their collection. The museum announced the acquisition of “Pink Wave” (2006) at its Second Annual Reception for the PAMM Fund for African American Art in April 2015.

The Brooklyn Museum acquired “Untitled” (1978-80) by Clark from Frieze New York in May 2018 and in the fall featured the painting in its presentation of “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.” In January, the Dallas Museum of Art announced several new acquisitions, including Clark’s “Intarsia” (1970).

In April, “Winter Bitch” (1959) was among a slate of new additions the Whitney Museum of American Art announced. The painting is currently on view in the Whitney’s reinstalled collection exhibition. One of the galleries in “The Whitney’s Collection: Selections from 1900 to 1965” is dedicated Abstract Expressionism where Clark’s work hangs with the likes of Mitchell, Norman Lewis, William de Kooning, and Franz Kline.

Ligon, who joined Hauser & Wirth in April, concludes his words in Luncheon reflecting on Clark’s exhibition at Mnuchin Gallery, which featured paintings dating from 1962 to 2013.

“It occurs to me that it is not hard to make a good painting every once in a while—but try making great paintings for almost seven decades as Clark has done,” Ligon writes. “And try keeping the work innovative and rigorous when you and your now justly celebrated peers—artists like Jack Whitten, Mel Edwards and Sam Gilliam, Frank Bowling and Howardena Pindell—were not widely exhibited or collected. Yet despite all the challenges he faced throughout his career, Clark has woken up each morning, gone to the studio and got on with it.” CT

 

“Ed Clark,” the artist’s first exhibition with Hauser & Wirth opens Sept. 10 at 548 West 22nd Street in New York City, and remains on view until Oct. 26, 2019.

 

TOP IMAGE: Portrait of Ed Clark. | Photo by Chester Higgins Jr. / The New York Times / Redux

 

FIND MORE about Ed Clark on his website

FIND MORE Ed Clark was interviewed by Jack Whitten (1939-2018) for Bomb Magazine in 2011. The conversation was published in 2014

READ MORE about Ed Clark in a brief New York Times profile from 2014

FIND MORE Ed Clark’s papers were donated to the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art in 2018

 

BOOKSHELF
“Ed Clark: A Survey” was published recently to accompany a career-spanning exhibition at Mnuchin Gallery in New York. The fully illustrated volume includes an essay by Antwaun Sargent. “Ed Clark: Big Bang” documents the artist’s Tilton Gallery exhibition curated by David Hammons, while “Le Mouvement: The Retrospective Ed Clark” documents a 2013 exhibition at N’Namdi Contemporary in Miami. Ed Clark’s work is also featured in other volumes, including “1971: A Year in the Life of Color” by Darby English, and the catalog for “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.”

 


ED CLARK, “Untitled,” 1978-1980 (acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 167.6 × 195.6 cm / 66 × 77 inches). | Brooklyn Museum, Purchased with funds given by The LIFEWTR Fund at Frieze New York 2018, 2018.13. Courtesy of Weiss Berlin, Photo by Studio Lepkowski. © Ed Clark, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

 

SUPPORT CULTURE TYPE
Do you enjoy and value Culture Type? Please consider supporting its ongoing production by making a donation. Culture Type is an editorially independent solo project that requires countless hours and expense to research, report, write, and produce. To help sustain it, make a one-time donation or sign up for a recurring monthly contribution. It only takes a minute. Many Thanks for your support.