I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Witnessing a full floor of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) devoted entirely to the subject of 1950s Abstract Expressionism is like seeing New York City itself with fresh eyes. All the urgency and innovation in one place is as invigorating as the pulse of city itself, which awakened after World War II to become the arts capital of the world, superseding Paris.
It was among America's most defining moments, and we answered the call with a group of revolutionary painters, including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, Robert Motherwell, and Franz Kline. Heavily influenced by Surrealist and Dada artists like Francis Picabia, André Breton, and Marcel Duchamp, the group of New York painters that would later be dubbed Abstract Expressionists embraced the spontaneity of Surrealism and made their art from a personal—and less political—viewpoint.
They were in search of self expression, but they were also angry; dismayed at the destruction of Europe and fearful of the hydrogen bomb, their work was often created in frustrated and frenetic brushstrokes that would later give rise to Pollock's "action" painting and his nickname, Jack the Dripper.
The urgency in the work is clearly evident, but so is the nihilism. Take, for instance, the color field paintings of Mark Rothko. While vibrant and beautiful, they are also emotionally charged. Rothko, like his cohorts, was in search of defining the very act of creating itself, hoping to forever capture a time when America's power was at its peak, but how that success had already cost, or would eventually cost, our very soul.
MoMA's collection of Abstract Expressionists' works is first class. With some of the most impressive holdings in the world that cover this important movement in art history, there is no better place to see them displayed side by side, often paired with sculpture, prints, drawings, and films from the same period. Join artists Brice Marden and Tauba Auerbach along with anthropologist Michael Taussig on March 10 at 6:30PM as they head a discussion about this important work. Curator Laura Hoptman moderates. Abstract Expressionist New York is on view until April 25.