Abstract Flash: Unseen Andrew Wyeth Exhibition Reveals Hidden Treasures

Andrew Wyeth, Ice Pool StudyAndrew Wyeth, Ice Pool Study, 1956, watercolor on paper. Collection of the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, B1837. © 2023 Wyeth Foundation for American Art/Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York /Image via Brandywine Museum of Art

CHADDS FORD, PA — Opening at the Brandywine Museum of Art on July 29, 2023, Abstract Flash: Unseen Andrew Wyeth presents a remarkable body of 38 never-before-seen abstract watercolors. The artworks in this exhibition are drawn exclusively from the nearly 7,000-object Andrew and Betsy Wyeth Collection of the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, now managed by the Brandywine. Opening in the newly renovated Andrew Wyeth Gallery, the exhibition also includes rare archival documents that show Wyeth’s encounters with abstract expressionism and geometric abstraction. From this fascinating material, a rich new picture of an iconic artist emerges that will be a revelation to many who think they know the full story of this creative life.

Andrew Wyeth once said, “My struggle is to preserve that abstract flash, like something you caught out of the corner of your eye.” He frequently called himself an abstract artist, a provocative claim from a painter who is best known for realism. Prompted by these statements, this exhibition is the first to focus on this major American artist’s interest in the abstract art of his contemporaries and the roots of his own practice in abstract methods. It appears that Wyeth started a sustained practice of artworks that navigate the boundary between legibility and indecipherability in the latter part of the 1940s, just when the Abstract Expressionism of the likes of Jackson Pollock was rising to prominence. Wyeth’s immediate gestural and geometric compositions seem to have been motivated by a desire to capture concepts that were emotional and instinctive rather than intellectual throughout many years of creative practice. While this process sometimes resulted in finished tempera paintings that were the direct outgrowth of loose and energetic early responses to inspirations in the world around him, this was not always the case. These artworks are all the more meaningful for the fact that the vast majority were purely personal and never seen beyond his studio.

Karen Baumgartner, the exhibition’s curator and Associate Collection Manager in the Wyeth Study Center at Brandywine, said “These works represent some of the most spontaneous and free work that Andrew Wyeth ever produced. If his temperas are the most formal expression of an idea, his studies show the artist thinking, and feeling, on paper.”

According to Baumgartner’s collaborator in the project, William L. Coleman, Ph.D., the Brandywine’s Wyeth Foundation Curator and Director of the Wyeth Study Center, “The Andrew Wyeth we see in the works in Abstract Flash was fascinated, not threatened, by challenging new ideas coming out of the New York art world in his lifetime. Visitors will gain privileged insight from these powerful watercolors into the making of his better-known representational paintings as he staked out a path all his own.”

On view through February 18, 2024, Abstract Flash: Unseen Andrew Wyeth contains previously unexhibited works that span the entirety of Wyeth’s career from the 1930s to an example discovered in the studio after his death in 2009. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, coming in the fall of 2023. Published by the Brandywine, the catalogue will feature essays by Coleman and Baumgartner, as well as Eric Aho, a noted contemporary painter.

Following its presentation at the Brandywine, which centers on Wyeth’s Pennsylvania work, a second part of Abstract Flash will open at the Farnsworth Art Museum (Rockland, Maine) in the summer of 2024, focused on the artist’s Maine abstractions. All artworks in both exhibitions are from the Andrew & Betsy Wyeth Collection of the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, the support of which has made possible these exhibitions and the accompanying catalogue.

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