Born: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 1910
Died: New York, New York 1962
oil on canvas 93 x 74 5/8 in. (236.2 x 189.4 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
3rd Floor, North Wing
Merce C is Kline's tribute to choreographer Merce Cunningham, with whom he had taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. The strokes of dense black paint pushing their way through the white field suggest a pair of athletic dancers carving the space with their movements. Kline's title plays on the appearance and sound of the letters in Cunningham's name, echoing the events staged by Cunningham and composer John Cage in which shapes, sounds, and movements emerged at random.
Kline was a methodical painter who made preliminary sketches for his enormous canvases and debated each stroke of the brush. But like Cunningham and Cage, he also relied on the unexpected. The spatters and drips of black paint reveal that Merce C was painted on the horizontal, resting on what is now the canvas's right edge. Kline probably arrived at the title only after he had turned the canvas around. He was in the habit of naming his paintings sometimes months after they were finished, and never tried to paint an idea. Kline once said that it was enough to experience the "pure excitement of...things happening" on the canvas.
Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006
Merce C is a tribute to choreographer Merce Cunningham — a modern dancer, choreographer, and a friend of the artist — who inspired Kline's own dynamic performance in black and white. In this stark but dramatic composition, Kline captures the power and elegance of Cunningham's dance. The strokes of dense black paint pushing their way through the white field suggest a pair of athletic dancers carving the space with their movements.
Smithsonian American Art Museum: Commemorative Guide. Nashville, TN: Beckon Books, 2015.
Performing arts - dance
Portrait male - Cunningham, Merce
paint - oil
fabric - canvas