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Hans Hofmann: Rectangles

May 17, 2013 - September 1, 2013

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Hans Hofmann: Combinable Wall I and II, 1961; oil on canvas; 84 1/2 x 112 in.; gift of the artist.

Note: Hans Hofmann: Rectangles will close on August 25, earlier than originally scheduled, in order to prepare the gallery for our upcoming Beauty Revealed exhibition. We apologize for any inconvenience.


Hans Hofmann: Rectangles is drawn exclusively from BAM/PFA’s unsurpassed collection of paintings by this tremendously influential Abstract Expressionist artist.

Known for his bold use of color, innovative approach to materials, and dynamic compositions, Hofmann (1880–1966) is perhaps most celebrated for paintings that use the rectangle as a primary motif. Loosely derived from Cubist approaches to defining form and space, Hofmann’s rectangles provide pictorial structure as well as a sense of motion, atmosphere, and mood. In Hofmann’s paintings of the 1950s and 1960s one can see in certain works vestiges of still-life forms, architectural elements, or even landscape features. However, the predominant sensibility is abstract, with a clear focus on color and form as the primary elements of the pictures.

Hofmann’s rectangle paintings have a classical feel, suggesting an ordered and harmonious universe. In most cases, the rectangles are perpendicular, resting atop one another like enormous building blocks. In some pictures, Hofmann introduced passages of gestural brushstrokes that, by contrast, emphasize the stability of the rectangular shapes. Occasionally, he would tip one or two of the rectangles on their side, creating an unexpected moment of disequilibrium. But it is the distinctive use of bold color that brings a powerful feeling of dynamism to these pictures. Juxtaposed blues, yellows, and reds generate the visual effect that Hofmann called “push/pull.”

This exhibition also provides an opportunity for us to celebrate the completion of a comprehensive Hofmann painting conservation project, funded by the Renate, Hans and Maria Hofmann Trust and Save America’s Treasures, through a partnership between the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. The project was executed by Alina Remba and the painting conservation team of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Conservation treatments varied from extensive stabilization of insecure paint areas on some works to simple surface cleaning on others. We are excited to once again exhibit a large body of these extraordinary works.


Hans Hofmann: Rectangles is organized by Director Lawrence Rinder.