Sunday, November 28, 2010

Favorite Moments at the MoMA's Abstract Expressionism Show

Jackson Pollack - One: Number 31, 1950

I can’t speak for all New Yorkers but I think I speak for many when I say living here I don’t take full advantage of all the city has to offer.  Truth is living here is like living anywhere else; it’s often hard to bust out of the day-to-day routine and do something special. I was bound and determined to do so, however, when I found myself staring at five glorious days off of work with nothing to do but eat turkey at someone else’s house (which, 
by the way, was lovely).

So bright and early on Wednesday morning, I braved the Midtown holiday crowds, paused to watch the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree get dressed, and went to the Museum of Modern Art to see their Abstract Expressionism exhibit.
I minored in art history in college and if I could do it all over, it would be my major.  I loved studying art; it combines two of the things I enjoy learning about most; history and aesthetics. My favorite periods in art occurred from the late 19th century to the first half of the 20th century which explains the incentive I felt to get out of bed early on my first day off and see the show at the MoMA.

Abstract Expressionism, also known as the New York School, took place in the 1940’s and 50’s.  It was the first major international art movement based in America, with the majority of the artists working in New York City.   What defines the Abstract Expressionists as a group is not a particular artistic style but rather their need to react to World War II and its aftermath.  The Holocaust, end of totalitarianism, rise of communism, and victories for democracy inspired the young artists in New York to create intensely emotional and personal works of art that were largely nonrepresentational and often executed on a grand scale.  These individual reactions resulted in paintings of dynamic gesture (Jackson Pollack, Willem de Koonig, Franz Kline), sublime blocks of color (Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman) and those that crossed between the two (Hans Hoffman and Robert Motherwell).
Mark Rothko - No. 10

While there is no better way to get an overall impression of a work of art than to step back and view it in its entirety, my favorite way to look at a painting is up close.  I like to see the brushstrokes and layering of paint; for me it brings the monumentality of an historic work down to a very personal level where I can imagine the artist working through the process of creating their masterpiece.  The Abstract Expressionists are particularly well suited for this type of viewing.  I like to pick favorite “moments” in a painting - a place where I fall in love with the colors or application of paint.  There were so many “moments” in this show!  Here are a just a few….

Mark Rothko - No. 1 (Untitled)

Mark Rothko - Untitled

Helen Frankenthaler - Trojan Gates

Hedde Sterne - New York, VIII

Philip Guston - Painting

Hans Hofmann - Cathedral

Larry Rivers - Washington Crossing the Delaware

Mark Tobey - Edge of August

Joan Mitchell - Ladybug

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