Sam Gilliam (born 1933) is one the great innovators in postwar American painting. He emerged from the Washington, D.C. scene in the mid 1960s with works that elaborated upon and disrupted the ethos of Color School painting. A series of formal breakthroughs would soon result in his canonical Drape paintings, which expanded upon the tenets of Abstract Expressionism in entirely new ways. Suspending stretcherless lengths of painted canvas from the walls or ceilings of exhibition spaces, Gilliam transformed his medium and the contexts in which it was viewed. Inspired by the improvisatory ethos of jazz, his lyrical abstractions continue to take on an increasing variety of forms, moods, and materials. 

In addition to a traveling retrospective organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. in 2005, Sam Gilliam has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland (2018); Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. (2011); Whitney Museum of American Art, Philip Morris Branch, New York (1993); The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (1982); and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1971), among many other institutions. His work is included in over fifty public collections, including those of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Tate Modern, London; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Art Institute of Chicago. 


Related Works

  • Like Sam Gilliam, abstract painters Helen Frankenthaler and Sam Francis used innovative techniques and aesthetics to disrupt the reigning paradigms of the Abstract Expressionist movement.
  • Sam Gilliam transforms spaces by suspending and draping canvases. Ghanaian artist El Anatsui takes a similar approach to installing his large-scale tapestries made from salvaged metals and wire. View his work.