An artist who mixed the hot colors of Pop Art with the cool, more analytical qualities of Color Field painting, Edward Avedisian was among the leading figures to emerge in the New York art world in the 1960s. Along with his contemporaries, including Jules Olitski, Kenneth Noland, Walter Darby Bannard, Dan Christensen, Ron Davis, and Larry Poons, he was instrumental in the exploration of new abstract methods to explore the primacy of optical experience, breaking from the tactility of Abstract Expressionism. He was included in the landmark exhibitions, Op Art: The Responsive Eye, held at the Museum of Modern Art in 1965, and Expo 67, held in Montreal. He showed at the prominent Hansa (1958-59) and Elkon (1960-75) galleries and participated in four annuals at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Through the early 1970s, works such as his “beach balls,” “seedlike orbs,” and “stripes with splashes” were prominently featured in Artforum (including the magazine’s cover in January 1969), Artnews, and Arts magazines. After leaving New York City in the mid-1970s for Hudson, New York, he shifted his attention to figurative images, painting his surroundings in an expressionist style compared by critics to the work of the Fauves, Marsden Hartley, and Paula Modersohn-Becker. In the 1970s, he created colorful abstract sculptures out of Styrofoam.
Avedisian was born in Lowell, Massachusetts and attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. His first exhibition was in 1957, at the Boylston Print Center Gallery, Cambridge, Massachusetts. After moving to New York City in about that time, he joined the dynamic art scene in Greenwich Village, frequenting the Cedar Tavern on Tenth Street, associating with the critic Clement Greenberg, and joining a new generation of abstract artists who were exploring the limits and possibilities of art by experimenting with new techniques and ways of organizing pictorial space. In 1958, he was the last new member invited to join the Hansa Gallery, which was under the direction of Richard Bellamy and Ivan Karp. Begun in 1952, the Hansa had been the site of Allan Kaprow’s “Happenings”; its members included Robert Beauchamp, Paul Georges, Wolf Kahn, Jan Müller, George Segal, and Richard Stakiewiscz. Avedisian’s first and only show at Hansa took place in March of 1958—the gallery closed the following year. By 1962, Avedisian was represented by the Elkon Gallery. In his first show at Elkon that year, he exhibited stained canvases with central images consisting of three plumes arranged against a large blot. A critic for Arts Magazine noted the way the paintings explored issues relating to the picture plane that were successful in being “effective and controlled.” By 1963, Avedisian had transitioned to a hard-edge approach, portraying primarily large striped circles that were placed in, and turned in, different directions within the picture plane, creating challenging eye movements for the viewer. Brian O’Dougherty noted the shift in Avedisian’s work in the New York Times, stating that his “targets woo the eye . . . in a sort of shooting match of afterimages.” To O’Dougherty, Avedisian’s work represented the emergence of a “definite school,” of which he noted: “the time seems ripe for a group show intelligently examining what is definitely a new and exciting trend.”
Avedisian was included in the annual of the Whitney Museum for the first time in 1963, and two years later, the new direction in art was given recognition by the Museum of Modern Art in its exhibition, The Responsive Eye. Avedisian was among the artists included in the show that curator William Seitz stated consisted of works that “exist less as objects to be examined than as generators of perceptual responses in the eye and mind of the viewer.” Critic John Canaday observed that the exhibition presented art that left behind the “sloppiness” that had previously marked avant-garde in favor of “art forms that demand technical perfection as an integral part of expression.” Avedisian was also represented in the Whitney Museum’s Young America 1965 and the aforementioned Expo 67.
In the late 1960s, Avedisian enlarged the scale of his canvases and began to use a verticalized emphasis in paintings consisting of overlapping, irregular swaths of rich color. One critic noted of these images in 1970 that they were “beautifully and lyrically executed paintings that created a busy arena for the eye.” In 1970, a solo show of his work was organized by the Bucknell University Art Gallery, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. In 1971, Avedisian was included along with Bannard, Christensen, Davis, Poons, and Peter Young in the exhibition Six Painters, organized by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in collaboration with the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Milwaukee Art Center. The show, which traveled to the three museums, was accompanied by catalogue including an essay by Albright-Knox curator James N. Wood, who wrote that the selection for the exhibition consisted of the “highest quality work of younger, abstract painters.”
In the mid-1970s, Avedisian abruptly left New York City and moved upstate to Hudson, New York, cutting his ties with the Manhattan art scene. He also broke out in new directions in his work, painting representational scenes from his immediate environment, such as men at work, billboards, and couples in repose. Some of his art of the time expressed homoerotic themes, while others captured the beauty of the natural landscapes in which he found respite. One critic described the art of his late career as having a disarming directness and a furtive sense of narrative. The last show of his lifetime was held at the Algus Gallery in 2003.
Avedisian’s only marriage ended in divorce. His partner, Judson Baldwin, died in 2006, and he died from unspecified causes following a period of declining health at his home in Philmont, New York, in 2007. He is survived by a son, Joseph and a grandson.
Avedisian’s work may be found in the collections of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Brooklyn Museum, New York, Buffalo, New York; the Denver Art Museum; the Flint Institute of Arts, Michigan; the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, New York; the Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York; the Portland Art Museum, Oregon; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor; the Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, North Carolina; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut.