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  • Abstract expressionism 1

    Abstract expressionism

    Jackson Pollock, No. 5, 1948, oil on fiberboard,244 x 122 cm. (96 x 48 in.), private collection.

    Abstract expressionism was an American postWorld War II artmovement. It was the first specifically American movement to achieveworldwide influence and put New York City at the center of thewestern art world, a role formerly filled by Paris. Although the term"abstract expressionism" was first applied to American art in 1946 bythe art critic Robert Coates, it had been first used in Germany in 1919in the magazine Der Sturm, regarding German Expressionism. In theUSA, Alfred Barr was the first to use this term in 1929 in relation toworks by Wassily Kandinsky.[1]

    The movement's name is derived from the combination of theemotional intensity and self-denial of the German Expressionists withthe anti-figurative aesthetic of the European abstract schools such asFuturism, the Bauhaus and Synthetic Cubism. Additionally, it has animage of being rebellious, anarchic, highly idiosyncratic and, somefeel, nihilistic.[2]

    Style

    Cubi VI (1963), Israel Museum,Jerusalem. David Smith was one of

    the most influential Americansculptors of the 20th century.

    Technically, an important predecessor is surrealism, with its emphasis onspontaneous, automatic or subconscious creation. Jackson Pollock's drippingpaint onto a canvas laid on the floor is a technique that has its roots in the workof Andr Masson, Max Ernst and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Another importantearly manifestation of what came to be abstract expressionism is the work ofAmerican Northwest artist Mark Tobey, especially his "white writing" canvases,which, though generally not large in scale, anticipate the "all-over" look ofPollock's drip paintings.

    The movement's name is derived from the combination of the emotional intensityand self-denial of the German Expressionists with the anti-figurative aesthetic ofthe European abstract schools such as Futurism, the Bauhaus and SyntheticCubism. Additionally, it has an image of being rebellious, anarchic, highlyidiosyncratic and, some

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  • Abstract expressionism 2

    An abstract expressionist painting by JaneFrank (1918-1986): Crags and Crevices, 1961

    feel, nihilistic.[2] In practice, the term is applied to any number ofartists working (mostly) in New York who had quite different stylesand even to work that is neither especially abstract nor expressionist.Pollock's energetic "action paintings", with their "busy" feel, aredifferent, both technically and aesthetically, from the violent andgrotesque Women series of Willem de Kooning's figurative paintings)and the rectangles of color in Mark Rothko's Color Field paintings(which are not what would usually be called expressionist and whichRothko denied were abstract). Yet all three artists are classified asabstract expressionists.

    Abstract expressionism has many stylistic similarities to the Russianartists of the early twentieth century such as Wassily Kandinsky. Although it is true that spontaneity or theimpression of spontaneity characterized many of the abstract expressionists works, most of these paintings involvedcareful planning, especially since their large size demanded it. With artists like Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky,Emma Kunz, and later on Rothko, Barnett Newman, John McLaughlin, and Agnes Martin, abstract art clearlyimplied expression of ideas concerning the spiritual, the unconscious and the mind.[3]

    Why this style gained mainstream acceptance in the 1950s is a matter of debate. American social realism had beenthe mainstream in the 1930s. It had been influenced not only by the Great Depression but also by the muralists ofMexico such as David Alfaro Siqueiros and Diego Rivera. The political climate after World War II did not longtolerate the social protests of these painters. Abstract expressionism arose during World War II and began to beshowcased during the early forties at galleries in New York like The Art of This Century Gallery. The McCarthy eraafter World War II was a time of artistic censorship in the United States, but if the subject matter were totallyabstract then it would be seen as apolitical, and therefore safe. Or if the art was political, the message was largely forthe insiders.[4]

    While the movement is closely associated with painting, and painters like Arshile Gorky, Franz Kline, Clyfford Still,Hans Hofmann, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and others, collagist Anne Ryan and sculpture and certainsculptors in particular were also integral to Abstract Expressionism.[5] David Smith, and his wife Dorothy Dehner,Herbert Ferber, Isamu Noguchi, Ibram Lassaw, Theodore Roszak, Phillip Pavia, Mary Callery, Richard Stankiewicz,Louise Bourgeois, and Louise Nevelson in particular were some of the sculptors considered as being importantmembers of the movement. In addition, the artists David Hare, John Chamberlain, James Rosati, Mark di Suvero,and sculptors Richard Lippold, Herbert Ferber, Raoul Hague, George Rickey, Reuben Nakian, and even Tony Smith,Seymour Lipton, Joseph Cornell, and several others [6] were integral parts of the Abstract expressionist movement.Many of the sculptors listed participated in the Ninth Street Show[6] the famous exhibition curated by Leo Castelli onEast Ninth Street in New York City in 1951. Besides the painters and sculptors of the period the New York Schoolof Abstract expressionism also generated a number of supportive poets, like Frank O'Hara and photographers likeAaron Siskind and Fred McDarrah, (whose book The Artist's World in Pictures documented the New York Schoolduring the 1950s), and filmmakers notably Robert Frank as well.Although the abstract expressionist school spread quickly throughout the United States, the major centers of thisstyle were New York City and the San Francisco Bay area of California.

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