Gerhard Richter

Three art shows in San Diego recall abstraction's prominence

Abstract paintings and sculptures were once the gold standard of Modern art. They spoke of adventurous aesthetic expeditions into hitherto unexplored visual realms.

Since the 1950s the figurative banner was held high by marvelous painters such as David Park in San Francisco, Jane Freilicher in New York and many others, but abstraction, nonetheless, ruled. By the late 1970s, though, change was underway.

Alternatives to the industrial forms of Minimalist art were emerging. Figures started to turn up in the most critically lauded paintings and sculptures. The secondary status of image-laden Pop art saw embryonic reevaluation. Even painting itself, considered moribund by many,...