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Macrocosm Microcosm: Abstract Expressionism in the American Southwest

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Macrocosm/Microcosm: Abstract Expressionism in the American Southwest

Nancy Johnston Records Gallery

In the 1950s, the American Southwest became a crossroads for Abstract Expressionists from the New York School and the San Francisco Bay Area. Elaine de Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, and others found inspiration in the expansive land and sky of the region and used gestural brushwork and veils of color to depict the vast spaces and distinctive coloring of the landscape. They joined with local artists in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas to create a distinctly modern view of the Southwest that expressed the aesthetic and cultural concerns of postwar America.

The title for this exhibition is inspired by the following quote by photographer Ansel Adams regarding the American Southwest: "The skies and land are so enormous, and the detail so precise and exquisite, that wherever you are, you are isolated in a glowing world between the macro and the micro."

A public lecture and opening reception will be held 7-9 pm Thursday, October 2. Museum Association members and their guests are invited to a private preview at 6 p.m.

Read the press release here.

Click here for a preview of the exhibition catalog.

View the Macrocosm/Microcosm timeline here.

Preview the exhibition here.


Watch Mark White's lecture on how the American Southwest became a crossroads for Abstract Expressionists below.


Exhibition Programs:

Student Opening Party

Tuesday September 30, 6 pm

Sandy Bell Gallery

Join us for a sneak peek of the special exhibition! Students can expect to enjoy food, live performances, and a photo booth. Following the party, Campus Activities Council will host a concert by Poliça on the museum’s lawn. The party and concert are free and exclusively for OU students. Sponsored in part by OU Housing & Food Services.



Thursday October 2, 7 pm

Mary Eddy and Fred Jones Auditorium

Mark White, Eugene B. Adkins Curator and Senior Curator of Collections, FJJMA

White will examine how the American Southwest became a crossroads for Abstract Expressionists from the New York School and the San Francisco Bay Area and how those artists used the style to explore the immense spaces of the Southwest. Technological advances in nuclear research and space travel also influenced how these artists understood space.


Meditation in the Museum

Monday October 6, 13, 20, 27, 5:30 pm

Sandy Bell Gallery

Surya Pierce, MD

Many Abstract Expressionist artists looked to meditation as a way to clear the mind in much the same way they purged their paintings of representational subject matter. Learn more about this practice through guided meditation classes in the museum. 



Thursday October 16, 6 pm

Mary Eddy and Fred Jones Auditorium

Richard Stout, Artist

Richard Stout is one of the foremost modern painters in Houston, and he will discuss the artistic climate of the city in the 1950s and ‘60s.


Faculty Focus

Thursday November 6, 5:30 pm

Dee and Jon R. Stuart Classroom

This new public program will use the special exhibition as a stage for interdisciplinary dialogue. Faculty members from Aerospace Engineering, Geography, Music, and Religious Studies will present their reflections of Macrocosm/Microcosm: Abstract Expressionism in the American Southwest as it relates to their field. Learn more about Faculty Focus here.


Gallery Talk: Students’ Choice

Tuesday November 11, 12:30 pm

Nancy Johnston Records Gallery

Featuring students from the OU School of Art & Art History

Five students from Robert Bailey’s “Art Since World War II” course have each selected a favorite artwork from the Macrocosm/Microcosm exhibition. Each student will give a short presentation about the significance of the selected work in the gallery.



Thursday December 4, 5:30 pm

Mary Eddy and Fred Jones Auditorium

Los Alamos in History, Memory, and Visual Culture

Alison Fields, Mary Lou Milner Carver Professor of Art of the American West, OU School of Art & Art History

This talk will consider the pivotal role Los Alamos, New Mexico, played in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, and how memories of this history have been mediated in visual culture. Read more here.


Image Credits

Top Right:
Louis Ribak (
U.S., b. Lithuania, 1902-1979)
Red Canyon Rising

, late 1960s

Acrylic on canvas, 
52 x 68 ½ in.
Gift of the Mandelman-Ribak Foundation, 2011

Beatrice Mandelman (U.S., 1912–1998)
Untitled (60.SP.4.39),
ca. 1960
Mixed media collage on paper, 10 x 12 in.
Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, the University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma; gift of the Mandelman-Ribak Foundation, 2014.

Wilbert “Bill” Verhelst (U.S., 1923-2013)
Construction #4,
Bronze, 37 x 8 3/4 in.
Collection Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, Denver.

Elaine de Kooning (U.S. 1918–1989)
, 1960
Oil on canvas, 82 1/2 x 77 3/4 in.
Collection of Linda and Robert Schmier; reproduction permission courtesy of the Elaine de Kooning Estate.