1956, an important moment in the history of Abstract Expressionism, also marked a major turning point for Adolph Gottlieb. Many of his peers had reached a plateau of sorts and become interested in the pursuit of ever-loftier goals. Pollock was struggling in what would be the last few months of his life; Rothko, Newman, and Reinhardt were moving towards singular approaches to image making. Gottlieb, instead, needed to keep reaching for what he called “the unknown,” a quality that he explained “is not necessarily something like a search for God—the unknown might be developing some kind of a tool in order to look at the other side of the moon. This has also elements of the unknown and which is what the scientists are looking for. The idea of God as an unknown is a transcendental idea. It’s more than what is unknown, for it contains elements of faith.”
In a short set of notes titled Polarities, penned in 1956, Gottlieb weighed opposites observed in science, abstract thinking and personal psychology. He concluded that successful works of art depend on the balance and interplay between contrasting forces. By engaging this line of thinking, his explorations of 1956 produced a richer body of work than any other single year of his career; works completed that year contain the seeds for all Gottlieb’s paintings of the next seventeen years. Paintings reveal the wide range of ideas and emotions that he was willing to take on, as well as his dedication to making works that were vital in terms of his personal standards and vast knowledge of visual art. Ultimately, the uniqueness of Gottlieb’s art is not found in a signature style. It is found in an openness to the art of painting, and a familiarity with visual images and methods from many times and cultures, mediated by the individual artist engaged with the culture of the moment. By fusing polarities instead of dividing them, the delicate balance of nature best finds its mirror in aesthetic expression.
Verbatim is supported by the Richard Pousette-Dart Foundation.