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A Celebration of Hans Hofmann in Berkeley

A new exhibition honors the trailblazing paintings by onetime UC Berkeley professor Hans Hofmann.


Goliath (1960) is among the vibrant oil paintings on view in BAMPFA’s Hans Hofmann retrospective.

Photo by Ben Blackwell

“Through a painting we can see the whole world,” the great abstract painter Hans Hofmann once said. Certainly, he used color, space, and form to brilliant effect, creating a boldly experimental body of work that played a central role in the development of Abstract Expressionism.

Now, in a comprehensive exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), visitors will discover just how prolific and influential Hofmann was. Hans Hofmann: The Nature of Abstraction features nearly 70 works that span the artist’s long career, from paintings he created in the 1930s to the mature pieces (often called his “slab paintings,” for their vivid, blocky color planes) that he made in the years before his death in 1966.

Many of the works are part of BAMPFA’s permanent collection, donated to the museum by the artist in 1963. Hofmann made the extraor­dinary gift of almost 50 paintings, along with a significant cash contribution, out of deep gratitude to UC Berkeley. Having been invited by the university to leave his native Germany and teach on campus in the early 1930s, Hofmann was able to escape World War II and put down new roots. Over the years, he went on to teach in New York and Massachusetts, mentoring such notable artists as Louise Nevelson and Helen Frankenthaler. Today, BAMPFA has the world’s most extensive museum holdings of Hofmann’s work.

“This exhibition offers audiences the chance to discover Hofmann’s magnificent body of work for the first time,” BAMPFA Curator Emerita Lucinda Barnes says, “and a fresh opportunity for those already familiar with Hofmann to experience new revelations across the full arc of his career.”

Hans Hofmann: The Nature of Abstraction is on view February 27 through July 21. bampfa.org.


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