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Abstract Expressionism

• Abstract Expressionism was the prevalent style in American avant-garde art after 1945
(end WWII)
• Two components: Abstraction and Expressionism
• Abstraction started at the beginning of 20th century with Kandinsky, Mondrian, Malevich;
after WWII, figurative painting was discredited because of support from Hitler (NAZI
Germany) and Stalin (Soviet Union) for this type of painting
• Abstraction after WWII was seen as a statement and an allegory for the unconditional
support of modernism
• Expressionism had a strong following prior to WWI in Germany
• From Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism derived the emotionally charged approach
to painting and “loose” application of paint; from Abstraction it inherited the departure form
• Rise of New York to the rank of an international art center: New York School of painting
> most Abstract Expressionist painters were active in and around New York
Jackson Pollock, Guardians of the
Secret, 1943, oil o/canvas
Jackson Pollock, Number 1, 1950
(Lavender Mist), 1950, oil, enamel
and aluminum paint on canvas
Cecil Beaton, Model in
Front of Pollock’s Autumn
Rhythm, photograph in
Vogue magazine, March 1,
Post-Painterly Abstraction
• Greenbergian theory saw the manifest destiny of art in ever
absolute imperative for abstraction
• As opposed to Abstract Expressionism, Post-Painterly
Abstraction tried to eliminate the artist’s hand in the work of art as
widely as possible
• Emotionalism is eliminated, so are brushstrokes or any statement
of subjectivity
• First and second generation of Color Field Painters
• Clement Greenberg’s answer to the new challenge of
Pop Art by the late 1950s
Barnett Newman, Vir
Heroicus Sublimis, 1950-
1951, oil o/canvas
• “We do not need the obsolete props of
an outmoded and antiquated
legend … We are freeing ourselves from
the impediments of memory,
association, nostalgia, legend, myth, or
what have you, that have been devices of
Western European Painting. Instead of
making cathedrals out of Christ, man, or
life, we are making them out of ourselves,
out of our feelings. The image we produce
is self-evident one of revelation, real and
concrete, that can be understood by
anyone who will look at it without the
nostalgic glasses of history.”
Frank Stella, Mas o Menos,
1964, metallic powder in acrylic
emulsion on canvas
Frank Stella, Norisring, 1983, mixed
media on etched aluminum
Modernism in Crisis
 After Abstract Expressionism and Post Painterly Abstraction, the
project of the avant-garde moved directly from the ultimate
fulfillment of its promise to a state of crisis
 How could one further purify art from the burden of history, if it
is already purist to the extreme? How could one further abstraction,
if one already painted the most abstract pictures conceivable?
 Moment of crisis in the development of modernism
 Pop Art came to epitomize this moment of crisis because it
signaled a return to representational art
 Clement Greenberg adamantly opposed to Pop art for its contents
(advocated “purist” abstraction)
 Rise of Pop Art coincided with the beginnings of the Post-Modern
Richard Hamilton, Just What Is It That
Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So
Appealing? 1956, collage
Abstract Art vs. Pop Art
Abstract Art: Pop Art:
• Abstract • Blatantly figurative
• Intellectual • Popular
• Maintains values of high • Lowbrow culture,
or elite culture deliberately ephemeral
• Existentialist (J.-P. Satre), • Deliberately superficial
• Theoretical • Empirical, based on
direct observation
Socio-Economic Aspects of Pop Art
• Emergence of consumer society in America after WWII
• Idea of obsolescence (pre-calculated life of consumer goods):
• Bottleneck no longer in supply, but in demand
• Packaging of food, toiletry items; mass advertisements, expendable appliances
• Manhattan alone started to throw away more manufactured goods in a week
than eighteenth-century France produced in a year
• For American consumption that meant (and still means): disposability, not
durability; replacement, not maintenance
• Invention and spread of TV was another key contributor to this
new topography of consumer culture, because it allowed producers of
merchandize to bombard consumers with broadcast TV messages
• Pop art thrived in this climate of a fully developed, capitalist consumer
• Oddly, the first instances of Pop Art themes appearing in art can be observed
in Britain, not the U.S.
Andy Warhol, Green Coca-Cola Bottles, 1962, oil
• “Somebody should do all my paintings for me.
The reason I am painting this way is because
I want to be a machine. […] I think it would be
terrific if everyone was alike”
Andy Warhol, Marilyn
Diptych, 1962, oil, acrylic,
and silkscreen, enamel on
Modernism vs. Post-Modernism
• Post-Modernism is a difficult concept to grasp, because it can
mean different things when applied to different contexts
• Term first mentioned by 19th-century British historian Arnold
Toynbee (A Study in History), but Toynbee’s use of word was very
different from 20th-century definition
• By the late 1960s architects and architectural historians
had become increasingly dismayed by the stylistic blandness of the
International Style and its mindless proliferation in the form of
cheap knock-offs
Summary Post-Modernism
• Because Post-Modernism is so inclusive, it can embrace a diverse
range of elements, including its own anti-thesis (Post-Modernism as
a continuation of the modern tradition)
• Anti-hierarchical, engages voices from the fringes embraced by
meta-narratives: feminism, non-Western cultures, discredited
popular traditions, ornament, multi-culturalism
• As opposed to Modernism, Post-Modernism does not take itself
too seriously: a detached sort of irony is always permitted and
• Latent feelings of lateness and closure: the wealth of historical
materials is so great that chaotic forms of recombining it will lead
endless clones of originality
Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970,
Black rock, salt crystals, earth, red
water (algae), at Great Salt Lake, Utah
Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, 1979,
Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still
# 35, 1979, gelatin silverprint
Chris Ofili, The Holy Virgin Mary, 1996,
Paper collage, glitter, polyester
resin, map pins, and elephant dung on linen
“As an altar boy, I was confused by the idea of a
holy Virgin Mary giving birth to a young boy.
Now when I go to the National Gallery and see
paintings of the Virgin Mary, I see how
sexually charged they are. Mine is simply a hip
hop version.” _Ofili
The Future of Art in the 21st Century
• The future of art will depend on the same variables that
define the future of mankind as a whole: growing world
population, diminishing resources, threats of war
• Art can only thrive under conditions of prosperity
• The turn of the 21st century is period of
unprecedented growth for art (art market, museums, etc.)
• By the 1980s there lived more artists in New York city
alone than during the entire Renaissance in Italy
• World population as of February 2006: 6.5 billions;
U.S. rapidly approaching 300 million mark (net gain one
person every 11 seconds)
• The search for personal happiness (Enlightenment
idea) has increased individual expectations with respect to
the quality of life (social advancement, longer and healthier
lives, material wealth, consumption)
• The steadily growing interest and importance of art in
every aspect of life in the modern era (since 1789) has a lot
to do with personal quest for happiness and the search for living a
fulfilling life
The Future of Art in the 21st Century
 World resources are finite
 Natural resource is the stuff on
which advanced civilizations were
 As more people compete over
finite resources, they will become
exhausted ever more rapidly
 Natural constraint on
economic and civilizational growth
 Growing danger from conflicts of
interests over resources threatens
of high standards of living for the
largest number of people
The Future of Art in the 21st Century
 Conflicts of interest may
result in wars
 Money invested in armed
conflicts is missing elsewhere
 Good global governance
will become more
important than ever
 Thriving art and culture
is the best indicatior for good
governance locally, nationally,
and internationally

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