Abstract Expressionist New York at the Museum of Modern Art Review

About Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism Review

The big show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City opened on Sunday, October 3rd, 2011 and ran through April 25th, a fortunately long life that gave thousands of art lovers a chance to see some of the finest work in MOMA's collection.

Note: This great show has closed, but the article and pictures from the show will remain as an active archive. DJS

Abstract Expressionist New York was as close to perfect as an exhibition gets, staying neatly within its boundaries and showing the great variety and individualism that guided its creators.

Abstract Expression from MOMA in Your Lap

Abstract Expressionist New York, The Show

Abstract Expressionist New York

Following a recent, economy driven trend, MOMA has drawn the artworks in this show from its own collection, one extensive enough that much of it is rarely seen.

This gives visitors a chance to linger over such art lover treats as a room filled with nothing but the paintings of Mark Rothko, the expressionist of such mystery, genius and mastery, he was recently brought to life on Broadway in Red.

We're fortunate that MOMA's collection is outstanding and extensive. The curator, Ann Temkin, probably couldn't lose but did a magnificent job anyway.

A not as much realized advantage is that much of expressionist art is huge. Jackson Pollack's One eats up most of a wall by itself.

What this does though is allow the curator to show fewer pictures, not having to fill the space with others that, while maybe great, risk overloading viewers with too much of a good thing.

As most visitors who come to New York City and see this show will only get a single opportunity to stroll the galleries, this maximizes the experience without exhausting the senses.

Women Broke the Gender Barrier

What You Will See

A lot of familiar and not so familiar work from painters you know.

Mark Rothko is well represented, more so than anyone besides Jackson Pollack. The many Rothko works shown, including an entire roomful, go from early to very late and from sunny to passionate to very cold. The concluding work in the last major room is Rothko's, and it is all grays and blacks, painted in the year before his death by suicide.

Pollack provides the show's highest energy, his drip paintings displaying a vigor, complexity and style unmatched in its maturity by that of anyone else. I still marvel at how truly his most memorable works visually reflect the theoretical concepts of energy fields proposed by quantum physics. Pollack made it look easy.

Barnett Newman, probably the wittiest of all the expressionists, once dismissed the respectable world of art collectors and critics by remarking that esthetics was to him "like ornithology is to the birds."

He couldn't care less, and his intuitively powered works show it. Like Ad Reinhardt and Robert Motherwell, he seemed not care at all about what critics wanted, guided by his own powerful inspirations and intellect.

While the New York Times reviewer, Roberta Smith, nitpicks about male dominance in the world of abstract expressionism and, consequently in this show, I can't recall another non-gender themed major art show with a greater representation of women. You certainly won't find it among the impressionists or, God forbid, in centuries earlier when a genius, Camille Claudel, was allowed to do only the feet in Rodin's great sculptures.

Joan Mitchel, Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner and Grace Hartigan are represented with master works masterworks that have no trouble playing in the same game as the boys.

Hartigan's painting, Shinnecock Canal, is unforgettable. Unlike other painters of the time, each of these women had long, productive careers, although Krasner is often overshadowed by Pollack to whom she was married until his early death–which Rothko, by the way, called a suicide.

Frankenthaler may have been the only artist in this show still living at the time it opened.

A lesser known by favorite painter of mine, Hans Hoffman, shares space in a later room with Willem de Kooning, presences near the end of the show that help steady the brilliance sustained from the beginning.

The duration of this show, into mid-sprint of 2011, is a gift. A New Yorker, I will return many times and absorb favorite works.

Consistent with the great and gentle good taste the curator showed in her selection and placement of works, Ann Temkin's notes on the show placed at intervals on the walls of the galleries are studies in simplicity, almost as if determined not to butt heads with those hard-driving expressionists, the ghosts of whom must be wandering the galleries now.

Additional side galleries feature some photography and related, but lesser works, for the more hardy and ambitious. They will probably be less crowded too.

Abstract Expressionist New York is on the fourth floor of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, situated in Midtown on West 54th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. If you're in the city, don't miss it.

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Abstract Expressionist Paintings In the Show

One of several Barnett Newman Paintings
One of several Barnett Newman Paintings | Source
Jackson Pollack's huge drip painting was created on the floor.
Jackson Pollack's huge drip painting was created on the floor. | Source
Pollack made visual the unfolding mysteries of the invisible energies of quantum physics.
Pollack made visual the unfolding mysteries of the invisible energies of quantum physics. | Source
In one big room with nothing but Rothko
In one big room with nothing but Rothko | Source
A sunnier Rothko
A sunnier Rothko | Source
De Kooning
De Kooning | Source
Grace Hartigan's brilliant and beautiful, Shinnecock Canal.
Grace Hartigan's brilliant and beautiful, Shinnecock Canal. | Source
Hans Hoffman
Hans Hoffman | Source
My favorite Hoffman
My favorite Hoffman | Source
Created by Rothko in the year before his suicide
Created by Rothko in the year before his suicide | Source

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What do you think? 4 comments

David Stone profile image

David Stone 4 years ago from New York City Author

Those who are appreciaters, rather than creators, really have it easiest. Thanks. I'm glad I left it up after the show closed and that you enjoyed it.

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Fabulous, wonderful Hub. I enjoyed it immensely. I myself seem to have no artistic talent but I grew up with two very artistic and gifted grandparents. My grandfather was a sculptor and my grandmother was a painter and later in life did batiks. So I appreciate art even if I cannot create it. :)

David Stone profile image

David Stone 5 years ago from New York City Author

Glad you enjoyed it, Lilly. My art hubs don't get much traffic. You are a rare and special breed!

LillyGrillzit profile image

LillyGrillzit 5 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

This is a beautiful and enriching Hub for those of us who have not had the opportunity to visit the NY Museum of Modern Art. Thanks for sharing

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