Hans Hofmann’s life affirms the importance of art as an essential activity of society. “Providing leadership by teachers and support of developing artists is a national duty, an insurance of spiritual solidarity,” wrote Hofmann in 1931. “What we do for art, we do for ourselves and for our children and the future.”¹
Hofmann’s greatness lay in the consistency and uncompromising rigor of the artistic standards he devised and his aptitude for teaching those principles to a devoted and diverse body of students. Hofmann founded and taught at art schools from 1915 until 1958, and he inspired a wide range of artists, from Lee Krasner and Burgoyne Diller to Irene Rice Pereira. He is best remembered for teaching the fundamental issues of postwar abstraction: the employment of color and nonrepresentational forms, and the artist’s ability to weave sophisticated relationships between them. For many of Hofmann’s students, this search consisted solely of formal innovation. Hofmann’s own work as a painter does not center on original discoveries; rather, it is a glowing synthesis of other movements such as Expressionism and De Stijl. This forces us to reexamine the definition of artistic “invention” and question the assumption that art must be seen in terms of discrete meaningful objects. In Hofmann’s case, art might better be judged as a model from which to teach.
The Gate was painted in 1959–60 as part of a series of works loosely devoted to architectonic volumes. Hofmann used rectangles of color to reinforce the shape of his essentially unvarying easel-painting format. Although The Gate is subjectless, Hofmann insisted that, even in abstraction, students should always work from nature in some form. With determination, a viewer can see that the complex spatial relationship established by the floating planes of color begins to resemble the gate of the title.