Peter’s Auction Pick of the Day: California Hard-Edge Art

September 24, 2018

Members of the California Hard-Edge movement weren’t part of an official school or club. They had no manifesto and their works often differed greatly from each other. LA Times art critic, Jules Langsner, was the first to formally label the type of Californian art that emerged in the late 1950s seemingly in response to New York Abstract Expressionism. In his opinion a handful of artists including John McLaughlin and Karl Benjamin, all shared a distinctively “impersonal” approach to paint application. Whereas Abstract Expressionism emphasized the emotional weight of gestural forms, these mid-century California painters regarded this style as too romantic and instead engaged the dramatic interaction of simple color fields and clean lines. While painters across the country began to adopt similar methods, California remained the epicenter for the genre. In 1959, Langsner organized and curated the show Four Abstract Classicists at LACMA, featuring John McLaughlin, Karl Benjamin, Frederick Hammersley, and Lorser Feitelson. The show notarized the movement and drew attention to the ways in which it had descended from the older traditions of Op-Art and Russian Constructivism.

John McLaughlin, Untitled, 1948
September 30, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

John McLaughlin’s Untitled (1948) is perhaps the most classical example of the Hard-Edge artists’ pure investigation of color. Like Matisse he balances the abrasive contrast of his complimentary colors, red and green, with large swathes of neutral tones. While this interplay is eye-catching, its never jarring or brash. McLaughlin was primarily self-taught and was highly influenced by Japanese asymmetry. Most of his shapes are straightly linear and so while not unheard-of it’s fairly unique that McLaughlin included a circular form in this piece.

Frederick Hammersley, Inside, #8, 1962
September 30, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

Similarly, both Frederick Hammersley’s Inside (1968) and Florence Arnold’s #6 (1968) explore the effective qualities of color. These pieces more explicitly reflect on their Op-Art roots as they simulate motion and depth simply by adjoining hyper-saturated color fields.

Florence Arnold, #6, 1968
September 30, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

Diverging from his counterparts, Benjamin introduces texture and muted colors in Untitled (1953). The painting takes-on a consistent Hard-Edge aesthetic however, as it blurs the boundaries between complimentary blues and oranges, creating color fields that seem to shape-shift the longer you look at them.

Karl Benjamin, Untitled, 1953
September 30, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction



Lot 155
John McLaughlin
Oil on panel
Signed lower left; signed, titled, and dated verso; retains remnants of exhibition label verso
23.875″ x 27.875″
Provenance: Nina V. Sims, Beverly Hills, California; Stanley & Joan Wilson, West Hollywood, California (gifted directly by the above, c. 1962); Thence by descent
Exhibited: “John McLaughlin: Retrospective Exhibition 1946-1967,” The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, November 16, 1968-January 5, 1969
 John McLaughlin: Retrospective Exhibition, 1946-1967. The Corcoran Gallery of Art exh. cat. 1969. #10.

Estimate: $80,000-120,000
September 30, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 156
John McLaughlin
c. 1970-1974
Paper and tape collage with graphite on paper
Retains Daniel Weinberg Gallery label verso
Sheet: 15″ x 12″; Frame: 22.125″ x 19.125″
Provenance: Daniel Weinberg Gallery, Los Angeles, California; Private Collection, Los Angeles, California

Estimate: $20,000-30,000
September 30, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 158
Frederick Hammersley
#8, 1962
Oil on linen
Retains Charlotte Jackson Fine Art, L.A. Louver Gallery, and artist’s labels frame verso
Linen: 30″ x 24″; Frame: 30.75″ x 24.75″
Provenance: Charlotte Jackson Fine Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico; Private Collection, Beverly Hills, California (acquired directly from the above)

Estimate: $50,000-70,000
September 30, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 160
Florence Arnold
Oil on canvas
Signed, titled, and dated to canvas stretcher verso
Canvas: 29.875″ x 24″; Frame: 31.125″ x 25.125″

Estimate: $1,500-2,000
September 30, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 159
Karl Benjamin
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated lower right
Canvas (vis.): 23.75″ x 19.625″; Frame: 26″ x 22″

Estimate: $7,000-9,000
September 30, 2018 Modern Art & Design Auction

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