Palmer Museum of Art Opens Exhibition of Dynamic Abstract Art

  • UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania
  • /
  • April 19, 2021

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Alma Thomas, Hydrangeas Spring Song, 1976, acrylic on canvas, 78 x 48 inches. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 125th Anniversary Acquisition.
Image courtesy of Palmer Museum of Art

The Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State has opened Mark Makers: The Language of Abstraction. Organized by the Palmer, this special exhibition brings together paintings, drawings, and prints by notable twentieth-century artists who engaged with the natural world through their art even as they moved into the abstract and away from overtly recognizable content. 

Featured in the exhibition are several loans from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, including a major canvas by Alma Thomas, a Black artist who worked for nearly four decades as an art teacher in the public schools of Washington, D.C. She later launched a critically acclaimed career as an abstract painter in 1960.

“This is an outstanding opportunity to see a major painting by one of the country’s great abstract artists,” said Erin M. Coe, director of the Palmer Museum of Art. “The painting by Alma Thomas and other loans to the exhibition are emblematic of our ongoing partnership with the Philadelphia Museum of Art made possible by the Art Bridges Terra Foundation Initiative, which benefits our university audience and local community in so many ways.”

Born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1891, Thomas drew inspiration from the cherry blossoms and azaleas of the nation’s capital as well as the leaves and flowers in her own backyard. Painted in 1976—when she was in her eighties-- Hydrangeas Spring Song captures the artist’s signature calligraphic style. Thomas’s paintings can be found in major museum collections across the country. In 2015, one of her colorful abstract works was added to the White House Collection.

Mark Makers also features works by other abstract artists, including Mark Tobey, Norman Lewis, Leonard Nelson, Henry Pearson, Alan Gussow, and contemporary artists Jo Margolis and Mary Judge. On view alongside the other art objects are small-scale works on paper by Warren Rohrer, a Pennsylvania artist whose luminous abstract paintings are featured in Field Language: The Painting and Poetry of Warren and Jane Rohrer, also currently on view at the Palmer.

“All of these works—the Alma Thomas, the large Rohrer canvases, the intimate works on paper—reward close viewing,” said the museum’s assistant director, Joyce Robinson, who worked on both exhibitions. “I hope visitors will take a moment to experience these beautiful shows that invite us to connect with the natural world and to one another via the intimate gestures of creative mark making.”

Warren Rohrer, "Settlement: Magenta," 1980, oil on canvas, 72-1/6 x 72-1/8 inches. Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Image courtesy of Palmer Museum of Art

The presentation of Mark Makers: The Language of Abstraction is one in a series of American art exhibitions created through a multiyear, multi-institutional partnership formed by the Philadelphia Museum of Art as part of the Art Bridges + Terra Foundation Initiative. The exhibition is on view through June 6. 

Free timed tickets can be reserved through the website.

The public can enjoy the following archived virtual programs related to the exhibition Mark Makers:
Lecture - Impossible Interviews: Artists Alma Thomas and Warren Rohrer in Conversation 
Jonathan Frederick Walz, Ph.D., Director of Curatorial Affairs & Curator of American Art, The Columbus Museum
Inspired by Miguel Covarrubias's "Impossible Interviews" for Vanity Fair in the 1930s, this talk brings together the lives of two artists who were contemporaries but who never met in person. Walz will highlight the similarities and differences between Alma Thomas and Warren Rohrer, including their shared position on the margins of the 1970s art world. There will be ample time for questions and answers. Jonathan Frederick Walz, an expert on American modernism, is co-organizing a major traveling exhibition, Alma W. Thomas: Everything is Beautiful, which will open in 2021. Link to recorded lecture:

Museum Conversation: Mark Makers
Joyce Robinson, Assistant Director, with special guest artists Jo Margolis and Mary Judge
Join us for a lively discussion led by Assistant Director and curator Joyce Robinson of mid-20th-century “mark makers” whose work is currently on view at the Palmer. Joining in will be contemporary artists Jo Margolis and Mary Judge, who are also represented in Mark Makers: The Language of Abstraction. 
Link to recorded lecture:

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