With its enormous vibrant canvases, the Royal Academys latest show the first survey of abstract expressionism in Europe in more than 50 years molts fresh light on the movements origins
When abstract expressionism first swept the Atlantic in 1959, in The New American Painting , an exhibition that set out in metropolis including Berlin, Paris and London( where it hung at the Tate Gallery ), it blew the socks off European artists. Painters of the Ecole de Paris, the centre of the avant garde, were still using easels, skirting around the edges of the precondition humaine with a modest chassis of existentialism, or otherwise precisely simulating Picasso. The new American painting, by contrast, represented immense canvases by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning, Clyfford Still and others, with a controlling intensity and directness, and an psychological impact that, in Rothkos case, reduced some onlookers to rends( they are having the same religious knowledge I had when I covered them, Rothko explained ). Travelling alongside the group reveal was a retrospective of( more) covers by Pollock, the greatest of them all, who had died in a auto crash three years earlier. The transaction was sealed Paris was over. As the exhibition toured its European artistry capitals, painters must have snuck dwelling from the exhibition in surprise and despair, electrified by what they had met and wondering how on world it was possible to rivalled.
The Abstract Expressionism exhibition opening at the Royal Academy this month will be the first survey in Europe of the movement since 1959. Not so remarkable, perhaps: such large and expensive( at least to protect) paintings are very difficult to gather together. There is also the amorphous quality of the movement, with no real stylistic relationship between the main chassis the link more a matter of physical width and magnitude of desire. And then there was the new skill of the 60 s pop skill, befalls and the rest which seemed to oblige the act of painting itself if not obsolete, then at least old-fashioned. And in a sense it was. For all the astound it generated over the Atlantic, abstract expressionism was not the start of something, but preferably a beautiful culminating, the epic climax of a long tradition of Nostalgic nature paint, gone up in the fireworks of Newmans zips, Pollocks dribbles and the smoky miasma of Rothkos colour fields.
For David Anfam, who has curated the picture alongside the RAs in-house curator Edith Devaney, ab ex( as he periods it ), was not so much better a push( there were no manifestos , no subscription costs) as a phenomenon. Its one that cannot now be confined to a few lone macho heroes with brushes. For a beginning, it was not just about decorating. The sculptor David Smith construed himself in constant dialogue with painters. His sinewy constellation Star Cage of 1950 transforms Pollocks skeins and arc of cover into a planetary chart. Later organizes made of daring steel ingredients painted black are like their responses to Franz Klines decorates, structures of heavy black marks, like girders silhouetted in a heat cloud. His final stainless steel statues, such as Cubi XXVII ( 1965 ), standing in the RA courtyard, have shimmering roughly refined faces that might be a thoughtfulnes of a neighbouring Pollock. Louise Nevelsons carves transform the dark, serious surfaces of Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb into monochrome assemblages of discarded objectives, stacked as if to create a shrine.
Nevelson is one of a number of women who played an important, if generally unacknowledged capacity in abstract expressionism. Georgia OKeeffe, though not part of the RA show( but much in evidence at Tate Modern ), pioneered a organize of idea built on highly symbolic imaginations of the body and landscape. She is a clear presage of the symbolic sceneries of Still. Much less well known, the depicts of the Ukrainian-born artist Janet Sobel were in part the brainchild for Pollocks leap into total idea, after her labour was shown at Peggy Guggenheims Art of This Century Gallery in 1944. The dense abstract interlace of her depict Illusion of Solidity , covered the next year,( on reveal at the RA) looks like Celtic knot-work adornment croaked wild. Sobel was just acknowledged by Clement Greenberg, the critic who promoted the abstract expressionist masters, and she died in oblivion in 1968. The wallop of Pollocks make was felt most keenly in that of his wife, Lee Krasner, who a few years after his death grew a series of depicts that wrestle with his remembrance and legacy, includes the impressive monochrome piece The Eye Is the First Circle , 1960. In the following years Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell made the stronger responses to classic abstract expressionism. Mitchells Salut Tom , covered in 1979, is the most recent depict in the exhibition, and testifies just how much the abstract expressionist atmosphere had both stood and transformed. As Anfam sees, Krasner and Mitchell get better with age partly for the simple reason that they met with less resist from their male peers and reviewers , notably Greenberg.
The RA show will likewise demonstrate a fresh sentiment of the beginnings of the members of the movement. A handful of paints from the 1930 s by Krasner, Pollock, Rothko and others, indicate how they came from a extremely American type of dark modernism born in the depression epoch. Krasners 1931 self-portrait presents a morose, tough likenes, with more than a suggestion of Giorgione about it, already proving what an completed painter she was, and represents her eclipse by her husband all the more regrettable.