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Abstract Expressionism

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Milton Avery

Willem De Kooning

Helen Frankenthaler

Philip Guston

Franz Kline

Joan Mitchell

Jackson Pollock

Mark Rothko

Cy Twombly


 

Abstract Expressionism

"A term first used in connection with Kandinsky in 1919, but more commonly associated with post-war American art. Robert Coates, an American critic, coined it in 1946, referring to Gorky, Pollock and de Kooning. By the 1951 Museum of Modern Art exhibition 'Abstract Painting and Sculpture in America', the term was used to refer to all types of non-geometric abstraction. There are two distinct groups within the movement: Colour Field artists (Rothko, Newman, Still) worked with simple, unified blocks of colour; and gestural painters like Pollock, De Kooning and Hofmann who made use of Surrealist techniques of automatic art. Not all the artists associated with the term produced either purely abstract, or purely Expressionist work: Harold Rosenburg preferred the phrase Action Painting, whilst Greenberg used the less specific 'American Type Painting', and because of the concentration of artists in New York, they are also known as the New York School. The only real connection between Abstract Expressionists was in their artistic philosophy, and publications like Tiger's Eye, an avant-garde magazine that helped spread their ideas. All were influenced by Existentialist ideas, which emphasized the importance of the act of creating, not of the finished object. Most had a Surrealist background, inspired by the presence of Breton, Masson and Matta in New York in the 1940s and by retrospectives on Miró (1941) and Kandinsky (1945), and the Abstract Expressionists sought to express their subconscious through their art. They also shared an interest in Jung's ideas on myth, ritual and memory (inspired by exhibitions of African and American Indian art in 1935 and 1941 respectively) and conceived an almost Romantic view of the artist, seeing their painting as a way of life and themselves as disillusioned commentators on contemporary society after the Depression and the Second World War. Other American artists associated with the movement were Motherwell, Tobey, Kline and Philip Guston."

- From The Bulfinch Guide to Art History

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