Suspense: Key Moments in Midcentury Art

Museum of Art Museum of Art

Exhibition: Suspense: Key Moments in Midcentury Art



Zuckert Seminar Room
This exhibition explores the personal vision of iconic artists of the 1950s and 1960s.


"Untitled," 1946, graphite and crayon by Arshile Gorky, American, 1904–1948. Bequest of William H. Alexander, in memory of his mother and father, Mr. and Mrs. William Homer Alexander. Bowdoin College Museum of Art.
"Le Banquet," 1957, oil on canvas, by René Magritte, Belgian, 1898–1967. Bequest of William H. Alexander, in memory of his friend, Howard Hoyt Shiras, M.D. Bowdoin College Museum of Art. © 2019 C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
"Untitled," 1961, oil on paper, by Norman Lewis, American, 1909–1979. Gift of halley k harrisburg, Class of 1990, and Michael Rosenfeld. Bowdoin College Museum of Art.


Many artists of the mid-twentieth century felt that academic traditions and the societal conventions they implied had become obsolete. Too disruptive were the experiences of modern warfare and genocide, scientific discoveries and technological innovation, global migration, and the mechanization of everyday life. To be meaningful, art needed to explore forms of personal expression that did not rely on the now crumbled foundations laid in the past. Suspension, literally and metaphorically, became a recurring theme in the art of this period.

Whatever the medium, midcentury artists experimented with shapes, colors, and movement as they sought to find their balance. They invited viewers to suspend their disbelief as they assembled familiar objects to form new realities. With non-representational objects they created engrossing visual spaces for viewers willing to leave behind a familiar world structured by gravity. Suspense draws attention to the variety of responses mid-century works solicit, as they engage viewers on visceral, emotional, and conceptual levels.