Mark Tobey: Threading Light
Curated by Debra Bricker Balken
“We hear some artists speak today of the act of painting . . . but a State of Mind is the first preparation and from this action proceeds. Peace of Mind is another ideal, perhaps the ideal state to be sought for in the painting and certainly preparatory to the act.”
- Mark Tobey, 1958
Mark Tobey: Threading Light is the first comprehensive retrospective of the American artist’s work in twenty years. The exhibition traces the evolution of the artist’s groundbreaking style and his significant yet under-recognized contributions to abstraction and mid-century American modernism.
With 70 paintings spanning the 1920s through 1970, Mark Tobey: Threading Light is curated by the independent curator Debra Bricker Balken and surveys the breadth of Tobey’s oeuvre and reveals the extraordinarily nuanced yet radical beauty of his work. One of the foremost American artists to emerge from the 1940s, a decade that saw the rise of abstract expressionism, Mark Tobey (1890–1976) is recognized as a vanguard figure whose “white-writing” anticipated the formal innovations of New York School artists such as Jackson Pollock.
When Tobey’s small paintings composed of intricate, pale webs of delicate lines were first exhibited in New York in 1944, they generated much interest for their daring “all-over” compositions. His unique calligraphic renderings largely invoke the city—its dizzying, towering architecture, thoroughfares, and pervasive whirl of electric light. As such, they are the outcome of a lyrical combination of both Eastern and Western visual histories that range from Chinese scroll painting to European cubism. This unique form of abstraction was the synthesis of the artist’s experiences living in Seattle and New York, his extensive trips to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Kyoto, and Europe, and his conversion to the Bahá’í faith.
As curator Debra Bricker Balken explains, "Within this mix of sources, Tobey was able to skirt a specific debt to cubism—unlike his modernist peers—by fusing elements of like formal languages into compositions that are both astonishingly radical and beautiful." Tobey's work bridges the international dimensions of mid-century modernism, a connection that has been previously unexplored in the discourse on postwar art.
Mark Tobey: Threading Light is accompanied by a fully illustrated, 208-page scholarly catalogue, published by Skira Rizzoli in English and Italian, that documents many of Tobey’s most accomplished works and includes a comprehensive examination of Tobey and his cultural context by Balken, whose thorough and original research addresses the prescience of Tobey’s style and his unique place in American art.
The exhibition is made possible with generous support from the Sidney R. Knafel Exhibition Fund, Peter and Elizabeth Currie, Stephen C. and Katherine D. Sherrill, and the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. An important contribution from Douglas and Janet True made the catalogue possible.
Mark Tobey: Threading Light in Veniceis made possible by Lavazza as Global Partner of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. This four-year collaboration highlights how the avant-garde is a source of inspiration for Lavazza and an inherent value engrained in the company since its founding in Turin in 1895.
The exhibition program of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is supported by the museum’s Institutional Patrons, EFG, Lavazza, and the Regione del Veneto, by Guggenheim Intrapresæ and by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection Advisory Board. Education programs surrounding the exhibition are funded by the Fondazione Araldi Guinetti, Vaduz.