Think your kid can paint abstract art as well as big-deal artists? 

A quick walk through the elegant show at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, "Abstraction, Color, and Politics: The 1960s and 1970s," will disabuse you of that hackneyed fantasy but quick. 

Up through Feb. 9, "Abstraction" is a concise exhibition of breathtaking work from UMMA's collection by some of the most significant names working in those decades, whether Howardena Pindell, Louise Nevelson, Al Loving, Helen Covensky  or John T. Scott

Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Vera Grant explains that this is a new iteration of a show with the same title that confined itself to the 1970s, and opened last September. That "Abstraction" was curated by Christina Olsen, UMMA's director who arrived in 2017. 

"That show was part of Tina celebrating her arrival, and rethinking her museum," Grant said. "I just arrived last September, and Tina asked me to reimagine the show. So we changed the parameters of the time frame a bit," pulling in the 1960s, "and went with a very different visual dynamic." 

A third iteration of "Abstraction," Grant says, will be coming next winter. 

Olsen's show consisted of just four pieces -- by Helen Frankenthaler, Sam Gilliam, Loving and Nevelson.

The current exhibition features three large, dramatic works by Nevelson, Frankenthaler and Dorothea Rockburne. Facing those is a "salon hang" of a dozen pieces artfully arranged on the remaining wall. 

The latter includes prominent Michigan artists, whether Mary Jane Bigler or Detroit's own Charles McGee, as well as national names like Richard Hunt, Beverly Pepper and Beauford Delaney

One of the things Grant likes about the show is the creative mash-up on the part of some represented -- figurative artists indulging in the abstract, or sculptors dipping a toe into print production. 

All in all, she says, researching the show was a marvelous experience. 

"It was a challenge," she said, "and part of my getting to know the UMMA collection. I grew to love the collection from a very hands-on perspective." 

She was also struck by the role local cooperatives and workshops like the Michigan Workshop of Fine Prints, the Michigan Watercolor Society, or the Detroit Workshop of Fine Prints, played in those years. 

"What this took me to was appreciation of Detroit as an art center," Grant said, "and the artistic energy coming out of the city at that moment."

(313) 222-6021

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy 

'Abstraction, Color, and Politics: The 1960s and 1970s'

Through Feb. 9

University of Michigan Museum of Art, 525 S. State, Ann Arbor 

11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat; noon-5 p.m. Sun.

Free - $10 donation suggested 

(734) 764.0395

Downstairs, a tiny exhibit of four recently donated works touches on the other end of modernism

on paper by the Austrian Expressionist Egon Schiele, who died in 1918, reminds us that abstraction was applied to the human form long before Picasso and Braque began experimenting with Cubism. 

Read or Share this story: