Last year, “Yellow Band,” the Sheldon Museum of Art’s Mark Rothko painting, traveled to England and Spain.
There it was included alongside Willem de Kooning’s “Woman II,” Jackson Pollock’s “Blue Poles,” Barnett Newman’s “Adam” and “Eve” and dozens of other paintings and sculptures in “Abstract Expressionism,” a survey exhibition of the post-war art movement at London’s Royal Academy of Arts and the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao.
Returning from Spain, where he had gone in January to monitor the transfer of the Rothko to the Guggenheim and its hanging there, Sheldon director and chief curator Wally Mason was listening to jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker on his flight, thinking about “Abstract Expressionism,” “Yellow Band” and the Sheldon’s collection of work from the movement.
“I came back from Bilbao and said to myself ‘We’ve got a critical mass of New York school work. We ought to get them out,’” Mason said. “They may have been shown collectively in the past, but not properly.”
The result of Mason’s decision to show Sheldon’s abstract expressionist holdings is “Now’s The Time,” an exhibition of 39 objects, all but one from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln art museum’s collection.
A few of those objects, like the Rothko, are internationally recognized masterpieces.
Some, like Jackson Pollock’s “Untitled (Composition with Ritual Scene)” are important early works by major figures in the movement.
Some come from artists who are nearly forgotten or, as in the case of Theodoros Stamos, have, in Mason’s words, been “thrown to the ashcan of history for no good reason.”
Together, they form a strong introduction to the what scholar David Anfam, in his instructive essay in the “Abstract Expressionism” catalog, calls “a phenomenon” rather than a movement.