By Katy Siegel, Lillian Davies & Pauline Pobocha
Phaidon Press, 304 pages, $75.00
In Abstract Expressionism, art historian Katy Siegel has assembled a definitive overview of the movement that emerged in New York City in the early 1940s and revolutionized modern art. Breaking away from the accepted conventions of the day, artists such as Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Koonig and many others pushed New York City into focus as the new center of the Western art world with their huge canvases and evocative abstract style. This book reveals the issues that drew the artists together, and traces their evolution into the development of this new language of expression. The authors also address the artists’ ambivalence at being associated with the movement, as well as the far-reaching consequences their work had on the world of art.
“Gathered mostly in New York City, they saw America — provincial, anti-intellectual, with little high culture — as the only possible location for the new art and an almost impossible place in which to make it.”
The book is divided into three sections, beginning with an analysis of the movement including its genesis and accomplishments. The second section showcases over 200 key examples of the artists’ work. The last section includes statements by the artists and texts by critics, historians, and curators. A full biography of each artist is included, as well as a bibliography. In this beautiful, oversized, full-color book, the reader will find a comprehensive survey of the first American movement to achieve international influence.
Reviewed by Diane Prokop
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Diane’s review reminds her readers about a visionary effort by President Franklin Roosevelt to sustain the arts in America—by supporting artists with funds from the Works Progress Administration, the much maligned “WPA” in the dark days of a world wide depression in the l930’s and early 40’s.
Gorky, Pollock and Rothko were artists who were economically sustained while they were experimenting with a new kind of painting, Abstract Expressionism which enraged some critics and made others write about a new world of art that freed artists from “a small and confining past.”
Rothco was also a wonderful writer: “Silence is so accurate.”
“Pictures must be miraculous.” In this statement he cautioned critics and artists alike about the new and unfamiliar:” Not everything strange or unfamiliar is transcendental.”
Once again Diane, an artist herself, displays her wide ranging scholarship by providing a small peek into her own career in the arts.