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UNTITLED, 1958
HANS HOFMANN, 1880-1966
MOSAIC, GLASS, 12' X 64'- 3"

Hans Hofmann’s mosaic mural for the former High School of Printing is one of several notable artworks commissioned for the new generation of vocational high schools built after World War II.  Hofmann was seventy-five when he undertook it, his last public commission. 

 

One of America’s preeminent painters and teachers of abstract art, Hofmann is best known for his push pull theory of color and form, based on the concept that illusionistic space can be created by juxtaposing colors and forms divorced from naturalistic subject matter.  Hofmann’s influence was enormous, shaping two generations of painters—geometric abstractionists of the 1930s and younger painters of the New York School—and for many years his teaching eclipsed his own work as a painter.

 

Untitled is a rambling exterior mural that is 64 feet long by 11-1/2 feet high, protected on the top by an overhang and on the bottom by a row of bricks which rise into a wedge on one end to compensate for the grade change. The bricks are also a discreet protective barrier, preventing people or things from scraping against the mural.  Hofmann divided the wall surface architectonically into vertical and horizontal planes of yellow, blue, red and black.  Smaller rectangles reflect the shape of windows piercing the gymnasium wall above.  Overlaid on this cubistic structure are bold calligraphic marks in black and red coupled with bright Miro-like biomorphic spots of red and blue.  Toward the mural’s center a vertical plane in shades of blue convincingly recreates broad, paint laden brush strokes and divides the mural into sections: on the right there are small, delicate forms contrasted with the broader, more graphic treatment on the left.

 

 It appears that Hofmann saw this commission as an extension of his current work and he did not make a distinction between a public and private context.  He didn’t set out to symbolize the New York School of Printing; instead he responded to the site’s architectural and urban character using his familiar vocabulary of form and color.  Significantly, Hofmann never formalized a title for the mural, which might have given it symbolic content.  Many of his paintings do have suggestive titles, such as In the Wake of the Hurricane (1960) or To JFK: A Thousand Roots Did Die with Thee (1963), but he was content to leave the mosaic untitled.

 

From all accounts and as evidenced in the mural itself, Hofmann collaborated closely with the mosaic fabricator, V. Foscato, Inc. There are areas where color seems to dissolve on the edge of a gestural brushstroke or small details where a “bite” is taken out of a circular form, disrupting a clear division between background and foreground.  There is also the atypical use of contrasting colors, for example, red or blue specks in fields of black.  The mural draws on Hofmann’s knowledge of mosaics, public art philosophy, and a lifetime devoted to exploring color and form.

 

Links:

 

http://www.pbs.org/hanshofmann/index.html

http://www.hanshofmann.net/

http://www.pbs.org/hanshofmann/push_and_pull_001.html

EXT. WALL
439 WEST 49TH STREET, MANHATTAN, NY

Schools in building:
The Urban Assembly School for Emergency Management
Success Academy Hell's Kitchen (Manhattan 2)
BUSINESS OF SPORTS SCHOOL
Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology
High School of Graphic Communication Arts

Find related art work:
Theme
RUSSIA
ABSTRACT

Time Period
Modernism: Redefining Schools in the Post-World War II Years

Artist
HANS HOFMANN