Abstract Art Did Not Begin With Paul Cézanne

“Time and Space” (2022), acrylic latex paint on aluminum-core fabricated wood panel with reconstituted wood veneer, 50 x 50 x 3/4 inches (all images © Odili Donald Odita, courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York)

Odili Donald Odita challenges the long-held belief that abstract art began with Paul Cézanne, and that it is a purely Western tradition in which Pablo Picasso’s appropriation of African art played an important role. This is the tradition with which most abstract artists align themselves. In this narrative of art history, Europe is at the center and the rest of the world is on the margins. Starting in the 1940s, American artists and critics helped shift the center to New York. And critics such as Clement Greenberg, Donald Judd, and Rosalind Krauss helped to strengthen this perception.

Thankfully, not everyone agrees with this. Odita’s brightly colored geometric paintings on reconstituted wood veneer register all the different ways that he has stepped away from the white masterpiece tradition in which the artist applies oil paint to large swaths of canvas or linen.

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