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Morris Louis

Tet

1958

Artist

Morris Louis (1912-1962)

Title

Tet

Date

1958

Medium

Acrylic on canvas

Dimensions

Overall: 94 1/8 × 152 1/8 in. (239.1 × 386.4 cm)

Credit line

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase, with funds from the Friends of the Whitney Museum of American Art

Accession number

65.9

Object Label

Morris Louis’s first mature works were the series of Veil paintings he began in 1954 and took up again in 1957-59; Tet belongs to this later group. It was initially inspired by Louis’s 1953 encounter with Helen Frankenthaler’s “stain” technique, which retains the monumental scale and improvisational style of Abstract Expressionism but discards its emphasis on expressionistic gesture. Following her lead, he began pouring highly diluted, plastic-based paint onto unsized and unprimed canvas without the aid of a brush. But whereas Frankenthaler placed her canvas directly on the floor, Louis leaned his at an angle against a wall so that the paint flowed freely down its expanse, following the laws of gravity. The results, however—luminous, diaphanous washes of color—appear weightless, as streams of commingled emeralds, steel grays, and smoky blues have soaked into the raw canvas. This tension between the physicality of the paint and its optical transformation into pure, disembodied color lies at the heart of Louis’s endeavor. Tet refers to the ninth letter of the Hebrew alphabet; it was among the titles assigned to Louis’s work after his death by art critic Clement Greenberg, who was a close friend of the artist.

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