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focus: James Bishop, Paintings on Paper 1959–2007

March 13, 2008–May 4, 2008
Galleries 138–139

James Bishop is an American artist who has lived in France since 1958. His exquisitely rendered, relatively rare drawings and paintings—which American poet and art critic John Ashbery once called “part air, part architecture”—combine European and American traditions of postwar art. His approach is marked by a poetic, reductionist tendency in which he creates form through color alone. Inflected by subtle shading relationships and a geometry that abandons the hard-edge abstraction used by many of his contemporaries, his work is grounded in the physical process of painting and in the interplay of color.

In the mid-1960s, Bishop painted his first large-format square paintings. He divided the pictures, which measure nearly six foot square, into progressively smaller planes—halves, quarters, and eighths. By pouring thinned oil paint and tilting the canvases, Bishop controlled the flow of paint into these drawn guidelines, achieving subtle structure within veils of finely saturated pigment. Some of these paintings evidence architectural structure suggestive of a house or building. In 1986, the artist stopped working with large-scale canvas in favor of small paper supports.

This Focus exhibition brings together a small group of paintings and roughly 100 works on paper from the artist’s personal collection as well as from private collections in Germany, Switzerland, and the United States. It is the first substantial selection of Bishop’s work to be seen outside of Europe.


This exhibition was organized at the Art Institute of Chicago in collaboration with Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich, and Josef Albers Museum Quadrat Bottrop, Germany,


This exhibition is made possible by a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Ongoing support for focus exhibitions is provided by the Alfred L. McDougal and Nancy Lauter McDougal Fund for Contemporary Art.

James Bishop. Tree I, n.d. Private collection.