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abstract expressionism

abstract expressionism, movement of abstract painting that emerged in New York City during the mid-1940s and attained singular prominence in American art in the following decade; also called action painting and the New York school. It was the first important school in American painting to declare its independence from European styles and to influence the development of art abroad. Arshile Gorky first gave impetus to the movement. His paintings, derived at first from the art of Picasso, Miró, and surrealism, became more personally expressive.

Jackson Pollock's turbulent yet elegant abstract paintings, which were created by spattering paint on huge canvases placed on the floor, brought abstract expressionism before a hostile public. Willem de Kooning's first one-man show in 1948 established him as a highly influential artist. His intensely complicated abstract paintings of the 1940s were followed by images of Woman, grotesque versions of buxom womanhood, which were virtually unparalleled in the sustained savagery of their execution. Painters such as Philip Guston and Franz Kline turned to the abstract late in the 1940s and soon developed strikingly original styles—the former, lyrical and evocative, the latter, forceful and boldly dramatic. Other important artists involved with the movement included Hans Hofmann, Robert Motherwell, and Mark Rothko; among other major abstract expressionists were such painters as Clyfford Still, Theodoros Stamos, Adolph Gottlieb, Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner, and Esteban Vicente.

Abstract expressionism presented a broad range of stylistic diversity within its largely, though not exclusively, nonrepresentational framework. For example, the expressive violence and activity in paintings by de Kooning or Pollock marked the opposite end of the pole from the simple, quiescent images of Mark Rothko. Basic to most abstract expressionist painting were the attention paid to surface qualities, i.e., qualities of brushstroke and texture; the use of huge canvases; the adoption of an approach to space in which all parts of the canvas played an equally vital role in the total work; the harnessing of accidents that occurred during the process of painting; the glorification of the act of painting itself as a means of visual communication; and the attempt to transfer pure emotion directly onto the canvas. The movement had an inestimable influence on the many varieties of work that followed it, especially in the way its proponents used color and materials. Its essential energy transmitted an enduring excitement to the American art scene.

See M. Seuphor, Abstract Painting: Fifty Years of Accomplishment from Kandinsky to the Present (1962, repr. 1964); I. Sandler, The Triumph of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism (1970); M. Tuchman, ed., The New York School: Abstract Expressionism in the 40s and 50s (rev. ed. 1970); S. Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art (1983); W. C. Seitz, Abstract Expressionist Painting in America (1983); F. Frascina, ed., Pollock and After (1985); D. Anfam, Abstract Expressionism (1990); S. Polcari, Abstract Expressionism and the Modern Experience (1991); A. E. Gibson, Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics (1997); D. Craven, Abstract Expressionism as Cultural Critique (1999).

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Abstract Expressionism

ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM

ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM, often known as "the New York School" or "American action painting,"

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describes the works of a loose community of painters in New York from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s. Initially influenced by surrealism and cubism, abstract expressionists rejected the social realism, regionalism, and geometric abstraction so popular with American painters of the 1930s. Instead, they turned first to mythology and then to their own experiences and insights as subject matter for their bold, at times dizzying, abstract compositions.

The term "abstract expressionism" dates from 1946, when Robert Coates of the New Yorker first used it to describe the works of several American abstractionists. Because works of abstract expressionism can diverge wildly in terms of structure and technique, art historian Irving Sandler divides abstract expressionists into two categories: gesture painters and color-field painters. Jackson Pollock remains the preeminent gesture painter; in such paintings as Cathedral (1947) and Autumn Rhythm (1950), Pollock eschewed recognizable symbols entirely, composing delicate webs of interpenetrating shapes. Color-field painters, on the other hand, suppressed all references to the past by painting unified fields of varying color. Un-like their counterparts, who often valued the act of painting as much as the finished product, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and other color-field painters strove to reproduce the metaphysical experience of the sublime.

Because each artist emphasized his or her own absolute individuality, abstract expressionists continually rejected the notion that they had coalesced into a school. Nevertheless, by 1943, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Willem de Kooning, Elaine de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, William Baziotes, and other future abstract expressionists were becoming increasingly familiar with each other's work. From 1943 to 1945, Peggy Guggenheim exhibited many early works of abstract expressionism in her Art of This Century Gallery. During the late 1940s, many abstract expressionists also congregated in the Subjects of the Artist School, the Cedar Tavern, and the infamous Eighth Street Club to socialize and engage in intellectual debate. Critics Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg emerged as abstract expressionism's most articulate champions.

Set against a backdrop of Cold War conformity, abstract expressionists often saw their work as the ultimate statement of romantic individuality and artistic freedom. By the early 1950s, however, abstract expressionism was losing much of its initial appeal. Although some abstract expressionists continued to experiment with pure abstraction, others began to reintroduce recognizable subject matter into their canvases. By mid-decade, abstract expressionism was finding a frequent home in major museums and private collections. The United States Information Agency (USIA) even organized exhibitions of abstract expressionism in response to accusations of American "philistinism."

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Gibson, Ann Eden. Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1997.

Sandler, Irving. The Triumph of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism. New York: Praeger, 1970.

John M.Kinder

See alsoCubism .

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abstract expressionism

abstract expressionism Mainly US art movement in which the creative process itself is examined and explored. It is neither wholly abstract nor wholly expressionist. The term originally applied to paintings created (1945–55) by about 15 artists from the New York School. Although very different in temperament and style, these individuals shared a fascination with surrealism and ‘psychic automatism’ as well as other progressive European styles. Towards the early 1950s, two distinct groups emerged with Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock heading the most aggressive trend (loosely known as action painting), which involved dripping or throwing paint on the canvas. Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt and Mark Rothko were more contemplative.

http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/movements_works_Abstract_Expressionism_0.html

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