Color as Field: American Painting, 1950 – 1975

February 29, 2008 — May 25, 2008

Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and G Streets, NW)

Jules Olitski, Cleopatra Flesh, 1962, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 104 x 90 in., The Museum of Modern Art, New York; gift of G. David Thompson, 1964 (262.1964) © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY © Jules Olitski/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Courtesy of the American Federation of Arts

Color as Field: American Painting, 1950–1975 is the first ever full-scale examination of the sources, meaning and impact of the Color Field movement. Color Field painting, which emerged in the United States in the 1950s, is characterized by pouring, staining, spraying or painting thinned paint onto raw canvas to create vast chromatic expanses.

These works constitute one of the crowning achievements of postwar American abstract art. The exhibition includes 39 beautiful and impressively scaled paintings by such major figures as Gene Davis, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski. Color as Field presents a remarkable opportunity for viewers to fully comprehend the aims of these artists, view their finest works in close relation to each other and experience the beauty and visual magnetism of their pictorial handling of space and color.

Karen Wilkin, a specialist in twentieth-century modernism who has published widely on this period, is the curator of the exhibition; Joanna Marsh, The James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Art at the museum, is the coordinating curator in Washington.


  • Larry Poons in Conversation with Karen Wilkin. The following interview was produced in collaboration with MediaCombo to complement "Color as Field: American Painting, 1950-1975," an exhibition organized by the AFA. Recorded in New York in 2007, this interview—divided into eight episodes—features painter Larry Poons in a rare conversation with the exhibition's guest curator, Karen Wilkin.

    Exhibition Catalogue

    The accompanying catalogue includes essays by Wilkin and Carl Belz, director emeritus of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University.


    Color as Field: American Painting, 1950–1975 is organized by the American Federation of Arts.This exhibition is made possible, in part, by grants from the Henry Luce Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts as part of American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius. The exhibition's presentation at the Smithsonian American Art Museum is made possible by the Gene Davis Memorial Fund, Golden Artist Colors, Oriana and Arnold McKinnon, Betty A. and Lloyd G. Schermer, Mike Wilkins and Sheila Duignan, and the Smithsonian Council for American Art.