Hilda Morris's process-oriented and technically innovative–yet spontaneous and gestural–sculpture, introduced rigorous and expansive thinking about abstraction to the Pacific Northwest by synthesizing casting with gestural traditions. Her art was part of a national dialogue influencing painters, such as Clifford Still and Mark Tobey who were her life-long friends, and several generations of sculptors in the Northwest. Morris (1911-1991) was at the center of the Northwest region's group of avant-garde, experimental painters and sculptors, poets, and musicians throughout her professional life. However, due to a complex set of circumstances, including distance from art-world centers and her own independence of mind, as well as changing trends and directions in art, Morris's sculpture, and indeed, her career, now have largely been forgotten in the larger arena. Hilda Morris: A Retrospective will redress this significant gap in our knowledge of American art of the mid-20th century and will examine Morris's innovations, in particular, her search for hidden relationships and metaphorical correspondences in the material world. Morris saw the rhythms of dance, music, and mathematics as images, and she emphasized the organization of organic structure. Her mythological and legendary subjects realized a personal, highly individual version of Abstract Expression that stands out when viewed against a background of vanguard sculpture made in the United States and in Europe during the second half of the 20th century. Her work was invigorated by her passion for transcendent thought, a study that began with her earliest childhood memory of Far Eastern pictographs. Morris's art offers, in effect, a new, unrecognized modernism.
Hilda Morris was born in New York City in 1911 and studied art during visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the new Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Natural History, and in classes at Cooper Union and the Art Students' League. Among her teachers were John Steuart Curry and Concetta Scaravaglione. By 1937, Morris was making sculpture in a studio of her own, and in 1939, while working for the Works Progress Administration, she established a sculpture program and taught art at a WPA community center in Spokane, Washington. In 1940, she married the well-known Abstract Expressionist painter Carl Morris, then director of the Spokane art center, and moved to Seattle to work on a statewide Federal Art Project. The Morrises settled in Portland, Oregon, in 1941, and except for extended trips to New York City, Hilda Morris worked in Portland until 1969, when she began to alternate between Oregon and Pietrasanta, Italy, where she worked at the Mariani Foundry and maintained a studio. From 1940 until her death in 1991, Morris produced a large body of abstract bronze sculpture of the highest quality and consequence.
A fully illustrated scholarly catalogue accompanying the exhibition will help re-introduce Hilda Morris to the public, and look at the utterly contingent history and experience of this woman artist in negotiating both her work and her place in the world in the mid-20th century. Essays will explore important art historical and historical issues based on a rich body of unpublished information, and will include analysis of the period, the special relationships of drawings feeding Morris’s sculpture, and her unique, transformative imagery. The catalogue will feature an in-depth illustrated chronology that will weave together all aspects of Morris's life and art.
Curated by Bruce Guenther
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