The late 1950s were an incredibly prolific and prodigious moment for Kline. In 1955, the Whitney Museum of American Art selected him for its landmark exhibition The New Decade right before he was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s iconic 12 Americans exhibition and again in the year following the realisation of the present work Kline played a prominent role in the highly influential show New American Painting. The latter was a ground-breaking travelling exhibition in which MoMA brought Kline’s works alongside other titans of American Abstraction such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, to the most acclaimed European museums. Untitled is thus from a seminal moment in the artist’s career, when he was immortalised as one of the figurehead of Abstract Expressionism and Action Painting.
Trained as a realist painter, Kline would only begin his now iconic purely abstract creations — which are immediately recognisable for their uncompromising beams of black paint that are reminiscent of industrial and urban structures; in the early 1950s. This move towards existential abstraction would be the central artistic decision that rendered possible that iconic final decade of Kline’s oeuvre. The predominant gestural element of the present work, the jet-black stroke that so dynamically carves its way across the canvas, is an element that is wholly characteristic of his idiom.
It was only just before the creation of Untitled that Kline began to eschew his purely black and white compositions; employing colour as a tool to enrichen his monochromatic palette posed a challenge to Kline: “I'm always trying to bring colour into my paintings, but it keeps slipping away and so here I am with another black show” (Franz Kline cited in: Exh. Cat., Cincinnati, Cincinnati Art Museum, Franz Kline: The Vital Gesture, 1985, p. 132). Untitled is thus a sublime and daring creation not only from the artist's most decisive years but it is also an early result of his choice to finally employ a coloured palette with which the present work reveals artistic synergies between Kline and his close friend Willem de Kooning.
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