Abstract Expressionist New York: Rock Paper Scissors – Museum of Modern Art, MoMA






The Museum of Modern Art



Abstract Expressionist New York
Rock Paper Scissors
October 3, 2010 – April 25, 2011





Abstract Expressionist New York Celebrates the Achievements of a Generation That Catapulted New York City to the Center of the International Art World Sixty Years Ago.

Abstract Expressionist ideas and practices extended beyond painting into a wide variety of mediums, including sculpture, printmaking, and drawing. Rock Paper Scissors features sculptures and works on paper—realized in wood, stone, lead, etching, lithography, cut paper, watercolor, and crayon, among other materials and processes—by artists who moved in Abstract Expressionist circles.


Abstract Expressionist New York



Installation view of Abstract Expressionist New York: Abstract Expressionist New York: Rock Paper Scissors..
Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Photo: Jason Mandella.
© The Museum of Modern Art.





Works by artists Louise Bourgeois, Dorothy Dehner, Herbert Ferber, David Hare, Stanley William Hayter, Seymour Lipton, Louise Nevelson, Isamu Noguchi, Theodore Roszak, and David Smith share with contemporaneous paintings an affinity for premodern art, the subconscious, and mythology as well as a vigorous physicality and gestural composition. The exhibition reveals similarities in approach in two and three dimensions by these artists. Nearly one third of the works in the exhibition have not been on view in over 40 years; the presentation also includes several new acquisitions.

A group of totemic figures by Bourgeois, Ferber, and Hare are at the center of the first gallery, demonstrating a common tendency on the part of this generation of artists to rethink archaic and primitive forms; the sharp points and jagged edges of some of these sentinels result in a brooding quality that reflects the still-raw experience of World War II. In nearby drawings and prints by these same artists, marks that are repeated or are the results of gouging or scratching into etching plates reveal a similar sense of threat. Works by Noguchi emphasize the organic qualities of wood and ceramic in the sculptures My Pacific (1942) and Centipede (c. 1952), while his Work Sheets for Sculpture (1946) show the way scissors can be deployed to treat paper as sculpture.

Nevelson’s constructions from found wood are on view in the gallery’s second room alongside a series of studies rendered with a rough crayon line by Seymour Lipton, as well as his menacing Imprisoned Figure (1948). In the next gallery, viewers experience another approach to the totem in a multi-part piece by Dorothy Dehner, Encounter (1969), a new acquisition on view for the first time. Her etchings hanging nearby are similarly constructed from iterations of geometric forms. This gallery also showcases Stanley William Hayter’s surrealist-inspired prints, with body parts embedded in swirling lines and webs, as well as his lesser-known and rarely seen sculpture. Finally, in the last gallery, the juxtaposition of the sculpture 24 Greek Ys (1950) with the calligraphic imagery of his works on paper show David Smith’s exploitation of letters as endlessly interesting forms.


Abstract Expressionist New York



Installation view of Abstract Expressionist New York: Abstract Expressionist New York: Rock Paper Scissors..
Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Photo: Jason Mandella.
© The Museum of Modern Art.





In looking beyond painting—long understood as the dominant medium of Abstract Expressionism—Rock Paper Scissors illuminates the range and liveliness of work produced in this period.





  • Abstract Expressionist New York: The Big Picture
    The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Painting and Sculpture Galleries, fourth floor

    -> link

  • Abstract Expressionist New York: Ideas Not Theories: Artists and The Club, 1942-1962
    The Paul J. Sachs Drawings Galleries, third floor

    -> link

  • Abstract Expressionist New York: Rock Paper Scissors
    The Paul J. Sachs Prints and Illustrated Books Galleries, second floor

    -> link







Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art
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~ by Stampfli & Turci on December 12, 2010.

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