The Case for Loving Hans Hofmann, Pioneering Teacher to the Abstract Expressionists

Hans Hofmann: Sic Itur ad Astra (Such Is the Way to the Stars), 1962.MENIL COLLECTION, HOUSTON. COURTESY UC BERKELEY ART MUSEUM AND PACIFIC FILM ARCHIVE.

Hans Hofmann routinely receives more credit as a teacher than as an artist in studies of his era, his most enduring work came only at the end of his long career, and his paintings regularly straddle the line between various schools (elements of Cubism, Fauvism, and more cohabit), all of which has made him a tricky figure to pin down and properly appreciate. But he’s an underrated giant of 20th-century art hiding in plain sight.

Plenty of successful artists spend a lifetime fixated on one visual idea. Hans Hofmann was the exact opposite, rethinking his art and rethinking it again, bobbing and weaving for decades. Along the way, he inspired countless essential artists, remade his life after fleeing oppression, and produced some of the 20th-century’s most scintillating, most prescient paintings.

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