Helen Lundeberg was a leading figure of west coast abstraction in the post-war era. An active painter and writer, she was at the epicenter of a dynamic group of Los Angeles artists and critics that included Lorser Feitelson, Karl Benjamin, Jules Langsner, John McLaughlin, and Frederick Hammersley. Along with her peers, Lundeberg’s work formed the core of what later became known as California hard-edged painting. Although her contributions to American abstraction have long been recognized on the west coast, Lundeberg has yet to receive her due in the east.
In the 1960s Lundeberg created a body of work considered to be her finest and most distinct. Distilled to essential elements of line, color, and space, her hard-edged paintings from this period effect a coherence of composition that borders on the sublime. Classic Attitude presents a selection of paintings from this moment, featuring works that are united by their compositional balance, subtleties of color, and pictorial refinement. The title of the exhibition derives from a statement Lundeberg wrote for a 1942 exhibition at MoMA:
By classicism I mean, not traditionalism of any sort, but a highly conscious concern with esthetic structure which is the antithesis of intuitive, romantic, or realistic approaches to painting. My aim, realized or not, is to calculate, and reconsider, every element in a painting with regard to its function in the whole organization. That, I believe, is the classic attitude.
Lundeberg’s attention to formal elements such as balance and color connect her to a previous generation of abstract artists, including Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, and Josef Albers. Similarly, her reductive forms, flat surfaces, and spare compositions link her to contemporaries such as Ad Reinhardt, Ellsworth Kelly, and Agnes Martin. But unlike these other artists, Lundeberg's vision of abstraction remained connected to the world around her. In Desert Road, Lundeberg’s flat, unmodulated swaths of color coalesce to form the view suggested by the painting’s title. Dramatic landscapes and architectural vistas such as these were composed of forms remembered—things "imagined rather than 'seen,'" as she stated later in life. The works presented in Classic Attitude encapsulate Lundeberg’s uniquely classic approach, and underscore her rightful place in the art historical canon.