William Douglas McGee: Abstract Expressionist


(Farmer Gallery) While at the Black Mountain College (summer of 1952) William McGee (1925-1999) studied with Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) and Franz Kline (1910-1962), both of whom would become major influences in his work as an abstract expressionist and color field painter. McGee’s works in this exhibition are from the Art Museum’s permanent collection and on loan from a local private collection.

January 27, 2015 - June 27, 2015

About the Exhibition

Like many of his contemporaries at the height of the Abstract Expressionist movement, William Douglas McGee explored various materials and methods of making that illustrated his personal experiences and responses to the social and political climate of the mid-20th century. In the summer of 1952, McGee was a student at the famed Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina. There, he painted alongside the likes of Robert Rauschenberg and Elaine de Kooning, who would become major figures in the second generation of Abstract Expressionists. McGee was profoundly influenced by teacher and mentor Franz Kline, from whom he learned to navigate personal philosophical approaches to art making.

Almost exclusively a painter throughout his career, McGee had an on-and-off again relationship with collage, first in the 1950s, again in the 1960s, and finally in the late 1970s and early 1980s. According to an interview with McGee in 1970, the artist’s principles and philosophy towards painting was easily transferable to the methods he used for his collage work. McGee was always interested in the balance of different components in his art: heavy and light, masculine and feminine, harsh and soft. By controlling these aspects, consciously and unconsciously, he brought them together and created what he considered his best result. For McGee, the importance of each material factored into the end result of an artwork.

McGee’s collages differed from those of his contemporaries because he largely refrained from the use of pop culture references. He most commonly used pieces of letters, notebooks, mat board and other substrates. Only a few examples include type-written material, such as newspapers or magazine articles, so that the text did not infer specific meaning to the work. The results were aesthetic responses to his landscape, environment, people and places.

Many works included in this exhibition are graciously loaned by Larry Huston and Dr. Flavia Bastos. The works by McGee in the collection of the Miami University Art Museum were previously gifted by Mr. Huston. The exhibition is co-curated by Mahaley Evans.

banner image stating dates of william mcgee exhibition from january 27-june 27

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Exhibition Programming

Thursday, February 12, 2015 6:00 p.m.

Painting's Returns: William McGee's 21st Century Modernism

Morgan Thomas, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Art History, College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, University of Cincinnati

The recent rediscovery of William McGee’s remarkable body of work raises fascinating questions for art history and criticism today. This lecture retraces some of the key moments in McGee’s artistic trajectory, exploring his links to artists like Agnes Martin, Franz Kline, Barnett Newman and Jasper Johns, as well as his interest in visual poetry and the role of construction, abstraction, and enchantment in art. It aims to show how McGee’s elusive position in the history of American modernism makes his art all the more relevant to discussions at the center of contemporary art and culture today.

Co-sponsored with the Contemporary Art Forum

Related Programs


Painting's Returns: William McGee's 21st-century Modernism

Thursday, February 12, 6:00 p.m. (Art Museum)

Morgan Thomas, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Art History, College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, University of Cincinnati