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The Johnson Collection

Over  the past month, TJC asked our audience what they want to learn about  abstract art. Join us for ArtWalk on March 16 2023, as we answer these community questions about how to visually read abstract works, how the style took  root in the South, and biographical information about the artists. The  gallery talk begins at 6 pm.


Surrounded  by Forms: Abstract Scenes from the Johnson Collection 

January 18, 2023 – April 8, 2023  

Traditional landscape art presents viewers with mostly recognizable  images, from sweeping mountain vistas to lush meadows, tangled marshes,  urban panoramas, and pastoral countryside. Whether familiar or foreign,  actual or imagined, such picturesque scenes allow artists to communicate  all manner of spiritual allegory and agrarian nostalgia. By contrast,  the modernist painters featured in this exhibition bring to their scenes  the techniques and perspectives of abstraction.  The Latin root of 'abstract' means to draw back or pull away, which in  painting can take the form of distorting a perspective or blurring  individual details. But abstraction also allows artists to “pull away”  from traditional landscapes in more radical ways, such as the celestial  standpoint of Lamar Dodd’s "Planet View." In some cases, abstraction can  enhance a scene’s recognizability by highlighting some essential  character or contour in broader strokes. For example, abstraction helps  capture the dense and refracted atmosphere of Corrie McCallum’s "Rainy  Night." In other cases, however, abstract artists were happy to fully  sacrifice their subject on the altar of sheer line and color. The storm  in Balcomb Greene’s "Thunder Over the Sea," for instance, is  transfigured into a clash of jagged shapes and cool tones. And many  scenes, such as David Driskell’s "Masked Forest," have become so totally  abstracted as to be unrecognizable without looking to their  accompanying title. In all cases, abstraction challenges us to  reconsider what counts as a landscape and to reflect on the forms that  surround us.


Hailed by The Magazine Antiques with having staged a “quiet art historical revolution” and expanding “the meaning of regional” through its “exhibitions, loans, publications, and institutional partnerships,” the Johnson Collection seeks to illuminate the rich history and diverse cultures of the American South.

Today, the Johnson Collection counts iconic masterworks among its holdings, as well as representative pieces by an astonishing depth and breadth of artists, native and visiting, whose lives and legacies form the foundation of Southern art history. From William H. Johnson’s Boats in the Harbor to Anni Albers’ Connections, the collection embraces the region’s rich history and confronts its complexities, past and present.

IMAGE: “Abstract Landscape” by Joe Cox (1915–1997), Oil on Masonite, 38 x 48”, 1960


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