Whitehot Magazine

October 2010, Abstract Expressionist New York @ MoMA

Jackson Pollock (American, 1912-1956), The She-Wolf. 1943
Oil, gouache, and plaster on canvas, 41 7/8 x 67" (106.4 x 170.2 cm), Purchase
© 2010 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Abstract Expressionist New York
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019
October 3, 2010 through Apr 25, 2011

The NY abstract expressionist “school” has officially solidified its reputation as the most interesting art movement of America's last century. Most of this work took place in NY studios, and MoMA, having been very much involved with the early works of these NY artists, was very well placed from the beginning as the unofficial patron of the “movement”. I use the work movement cautiously, because in spite of the interactions, the friendships, the marriages and sometimes drunken manifestos, these painters were individuals who are not easily categorized. The artists of this scene have often been objects of contempt to the Pop Art milieu that followed, as well as to the current conceptual art scene with its rejection of that very passé notion---applied paint. But this show, with its proof in the pudding, is powerful and inspiring.

According to the MoMA, this exhibition is the largest and most comprehensive display of NY abstract expressionism ever. Anne Tempkin, head curator of the largest section of the exhibition, sub-titled “The Big Picture”, likened the process to “shopping in our closet.” The sheer number of works which take up the entire 4th floor, as well as sections of the 2nd and 3rd, is a testament to the incredible and sometimes unseen holdings in the museum’s collection. It is unusual for a museum to be able to mount such an extensive exhibition without expensive borrowing, transporting and insuring. There is a kind of thrill involved in knowing that these works were born in NY, belong to NY, and that New Yorkers, as well as the world, are given the chance to see this collection in its own “backyard”. Glen Lowry, the museum’s director, hopes that this exhibition will “inspire and energize young people” with its freshness--- and that is exactly what it does. For me it erased any hesitations I might have had about Pollock’s drip paintings, it confirmed that De Kooning was the most conservative in terms of the use of form, but that form was crucial to Pollock as well. It reintroduces us to certain early Rothko’s as well as the supreme importance of Archille Gorky as a kind of bridge between surrealism and the NY expressionists. It actually reintroduces us to the very notion of abstraction and what really constitutes an “abstraction” as well as theories of color and subject, the eternal questions of personality in art, or personality vs. art. There are only a few great movements every couple of hundred years or so, and nobody knows why, or what or when or how it happens. If the 1920’s and the post war period was Paris’s gift to the world, 1950’s New York was ours.

The layout of this exhibition is superb. It is loosely chronological, but entire halls are dedicated to individual artists, which helps solidify the reputation of each within the movement. For example, the room dedicated to Rothko contains eight stunning painting composed over a period of 14 years. For those of you have not had the unique experience of entering the Rothko Chapel in Houston, or the Tate Modern’s Rothko hall, this is an experience not to be missed. A similar effect is created in the Pollock gallery which contains the legendary Full Fathom Five (1947), one of the first drip paintings, and a beautiful black enamel on white canvas titled Echo #25 (1951). The big names are all here (Pollock, Gorky, Krasner, Motherwell, Dekooning, Rothko, Kline, Newman, etc.) but there are also a number of crucial but somewhat lesser known artists included, such as Alfred Leslie, Norman Lewis, Minor White, Bradley Walker Tomlin and Jack Tworkov. It is also important to note that the exhibition is broken into three parts, the largest being "The Big Picture" on the 4th floor. The other sectionsm curated by Jodie Hauptman, Sarah Suzuki and Sarah Meister, are more subtle than the bold canvases that dominate the 4th floor. "Rock Paper Scissors" delves into works on paper, lithographs, and sculpture that are very much a part of the abstract expressionist circles, though without the telltale signposts of color and large canvases.

This show, if nothing else should remind us of that generation of artists who lived and painted with vigor and conviction despite the odds. There were no MFA’s to fall back on, no residencies or advances to speak of--- without romanticizing it, their lives were more immediately connected to their real art than any of our contemporary superstars could hope for. This is an emotional inspiration, and that is why I hope Glen Lowry is right and that young people will see this show, take a deep breath, and clear their heads.

Installation view of Abstract Expressionist New York: The Big Picture.
Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Jason Mandella.

Robert Motherwell (American, 1915–1991), Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 108, 1965-67
Oil on canvas, 6' 10" x 11' 6 1/4" (208.2 x 351.1 cm)
Charles Mergentime Fund
© Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY


Willem de Kooning (American, born The Netherlands, 1904-1997), Woman, I. 1950–52.
Oil on canvas. 6' 3 7/8" x 58" (192.7 x 147.3 cm).
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase.
© 2010 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Mark Rothko (American, born Latvia. 1903-1970), No. 3/No. 13,. 1949
Oil on canvas, 7' 1 3/8" x 65" (216.5 x 164.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Bequest of Mrs. Mark Rothko through
The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc.
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Stephanos Papadopoulos


Stephanos Papadopoulos was born in North Carolina and raised in Paris and Athens. Educated in the and Edinburgh, he holds a degree in classical archaeology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He was invited to the Rat Island Foundation by Derek Walcott in 1998.  His work has been published in periodicals such as The Yale Review, Poetry Review, Stand Magazine, The New Republic and many others. He has translated works of the Greek poets, Yiannis Ritsos and Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke. he is editor and co-translator of Derek Walcott’s Selected Poems, 2007.  Lost Days, his first collection, is published by Michael Hulse with Leviathan Press in London and Rattapallax Press in New York. His second book Hotel-Dieu is forthcoming and he is at work on a book about the Black Sea Greeks. stpapas@hotmail.com

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