Larger Type
Smaller Type

Search Collections

Merce C

1961 Franz Kline 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. 1969.47.64 Smithsonian American Art Museum
3rd Floor, North Wing

Gallery Label

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



Performing arts - dance

Portrait male - Cunningham, Merce


paint - oil

fabric - canvas

About Franz Kline

Born: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 1910 Died: New York, New York 1962

More works in the collection by
Franz Kline