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European + American Art Abstraction

Dominated by Fernand Léger’s giant canvas, Trapeze artists,this gallery assembles works around the themes of modernism, geometry and the city. Jean Tinguely’s mischievous ‘Meta-mechanical sculpture’ is a deliberate travesty of mechanical precision—it shudders and moves unpredictably, the sire sprockets bend and jump the cogs—and if the machine were allowed to run continuously, it would destroy itself. Joseph Albers and Fritz Glarner explore colour and geometry, and the relationships between colour and shape.

The planar and linear elements of Gerrit Rietveld’s chair—part of an ensemble of furnishings shown in Berlin in 1923—are highlighted by black, white and grey paint. Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s Vertical and horizontal composition is related to designs for the stained glass windows for a café. Elsewhere in this sweep of abstraction, Amédée Ozenfant’s pearlescent vessels and a still life by Giorgio Morandi hang adjacent to a showcase with highlights from the decorative arts collection such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s window, made for the Avery Coonley Playhouse.

Design and the decorative arts flourished in response to the modernist movement. Objects produced by the collective of architects and artists known as the Vienna Secession are underpinned by a strong reductive geometry. The Bauhaus school of art, design and architecture sought to unite the artistic and practical elements of design, making no distinction between art and craft. Art Deco designers used modern materials and industrial processes to create a highly expressive and decorative aesthetic which manifested itself in all aspects of the decorative arts and architecture.