Burgoyne Diller (American, 1906 – 1965), Second Theme #272 (detail), ca. 1934 – 1936. Oil and water-based media on canvas. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of David L. Davies and John D. Weeden. 2013.21.10

Shaping Abstraction

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Drawn primarily from the Bay Area collections of Maurice and the late Harriet Gregg and of John Weeden and the late David Davies, this exhibition presents a selection of works by early to mid-20th-century American abstractionists. Many of these artists were associated with the New York–based American Abstract Artists group (AAA), which played a pivotal role in advancing the cause of abstraction in the United States in the first half of the 20th century.

At the time of AAA’s founding, in 1936, abstract art had been developing for decades in Europe, but it still met strong critical resistance in this country. Institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York (established in 1929) had a policy of featuring European abstraction yet endorsing American Scene and Social Realist art, reflecting the nationalistic tastes that prevailed in the United States during the Great Depression. The AAA group combated these hostile attitudes and contributed to the development and acceptance of American abstract art through its ambitious program of exhibitions, lectures, and publications, paving the way for the ascension of the Abstract Expressionist movement after World War II.

The works on view are among many that the Greggs, Weeden, and Davies have generously given to the Fine Arts Museums to form one of the premier collections of early American abstraction in the country.

Currently on view