The Jewish Museum will present “Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning and American Art, 1940‱976” from May 4 through September 21. In the first major US exhibition in 20 years to rethink Abstract Expressionism and the movements that followed, 50 key works by 31 artists †among them Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Mark Rothko †are viewed from the perspectives of influential, rival art critics Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg.
In the 1940s, artists such as Pollock and de Kooning created paintings and sculptures that catapulted American art onto the international stage, making New York City the successor to prewar Paris as the mecca for the avant-garde. Two rival art critics played a crucial role in the reception of this new American painting and sculpture: the New York intellectuals Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg. In the pages of magazines as diverse as Partisan Review, The Nation, ARTnews and Vogue , these critics wrote incisively about seismic changes in the art world, often disagreeing with each other vehemently.
By interpreting the significance of the most daring art of their times, their advocacy propelled the artists and their art to the forefront of the public imagination. In 1949, when Life †then the nation’s most popular magazine and a barometer of mainstream taste †featured a piece on Pollock, it was clear that Greenberg’s influence had begun to be felt beyond the world of art.
In a period fueled by Cold War politics, the mushrooming of mass media and surging consumerism, Rosenberg promoted action †his idea of the creative, physical act of making art †against Greenberg’s belief in abstraction and the formal purity of the art object.
The artists they championed, beyond Pollock and de Kooning, included Frankenthaler, Rothko, Hans Hofmann, Arshile Gorky, Joan Mitchell, Jules Olitski, Philip Guston and Clyfford Still.
“Action/Abstraction” presents major paintings and sculptures from major institutions and collections throughout the United States and abroad, surveying the first generation of Abstract Expressionists, as well as later artists who built on their achievements. Context rooms in the exhibition feature documents †including personal correspondence, magazines, newspapers, film and television clips and photographs †that shed light on the cultural and social climate of the 1940s to the 1970s. The works in the exhibition, arranged in thematic sections, are grouped to evoke the rivalry of Greenberg and Rosenberg and the epic transformation of American art in the postwar period.
The exhibition has been organized by the Jewish Museum, in collaboration with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, N.Y., and the Saint Louis Art Museum. A 355-page, heavily illustrated catalog accompanies the exhibition, which will be at the Saint Louis Art Museum from October 19 to January 11, 2009 and at the Albright⁋nox Art Gallery from February 13 to May 31, 2009.
The Jewish Museum is at 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street. For more information, www.thejewishmuseum.org or 212-423-3200.