Abstract Expressionist New York: Ideas Not Theories – Museum of Modern Art, MoMA






The Museum of Modern Art



Abstract Expressionist New York
Ideas Not Theories: Artists and The Club, 1942-1962
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

Beginning in the 1940s, a group of artists began to meet regularly, eventually forming the Club in a barebones space on 8th Street in Greenwich Village, where they discussed and debated art and other subjects of the day, ranging from modern music and Eastern philosophy to the relationship between art and poetry. Among the founding members was sculptor Philip Pavia, who in 1949 famously declared, “The first half of the century belonged to Paris. The next half century will be ours.”


Abstract Expressionist New York



Installation view of Abstract Expressionist New York: Abstract Expressionist New York: Ideas Not Theories: Artists and The Club, 1942-1962..
Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Photo: Jason Mandella.
© The Museum of Modern Art.





Ideas Not Theories brings together almost one hundred works in a diverse range of mediums—including painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, photography, film, architectural models, music, illustrated books, and printed journals—materials, and approaches to present five propositions designed to evoke key topics of discussion among the artists, musicians, composers, poets, critics, curators, and gallerists who gathered regularly at the Club’s lectures, panels and events. Many of the works in the show have not been on view in the Museum’s galleries in over several decades.

“Myth and Creative Art,” a presentation given at the Club in the spring of 1951, featured as a guest speaker the writer Joseph Campbell, who had recently published to great acclaim The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a study of epic tales in diverse cultures. This presentation is the starting point of the exhibition’s first section, which explores this generation’s search for a “spiritual kinship with primitive and archaic art,” in the words of Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko. A visual corollary to Campbell’s arguments can be found in Frederick Kiesler’s rough-hewn wooden Totem for All Religions (1947) and in a group of Gottlieb’s pictographs that offers deep insight into his quest for a symbolic, universally meaningful visual language across the mediums of painting, drawing, and printmaking—an effort echoed by other artists in the room.

“The Unframed Frame: Modern Music” examines contemporary music, both through the works of New York School musicians and composers like John Cage, whose compositions forgo traditional notes and staves in favor of more free form notation, and the influence of music on visual art forms, as in Barnett Newman’s striking portfolio 18 Cantos (1963-64), and Len Lye’s abstract films set to syncopated music. Cage’s 1951 presentation at the Club, “Something and Nothing,” marked the burgeoning interest in Zen and East Asia, reflected here in works including Isamu Noguchi’s metaphysical sculpture Stone for Spiritual Understanding (1962) and Jackson Pollock’s ink drawing on Japanese paper.


Abstract Expressionist New York



Installation view of Abstract Expressionist New York: Abstract Expressionist New York: Ideas Not Theories: Artists and The Club, 1942-1962..
Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Photo: Jason Mandella.
© The Museum of Modern Art.





“Space, Math and Modern Painting” presents examples of the alternative strategies offered by mathematics and architecture. Highlighted in this section is Richard Lippold’s delicate wire sculpture Variation Number 7: Full Moon (1949-50), not on view since 1969, along with a never-before-exhibited series of preparatory drawings related to its making. Works by Buckminster Fuller and Oscar Niemeyer, whose architectural visions helped to shape these discussions, are also on view. “The Image in Poetry and Painting” examines the fertile collaborations between visual artists and poets during this period, ranging from Rudy Burckhardt’s photographic series Photographs by Rudolph Burckhardt; Sonnet by Edwin Denby (1946-1947), to the livre d’artiste-inspired 21 Etchings and Poems (1960) by Franz Kline, to journals including It Is and The Tiger’s Eye.


  • 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
Images © All rights reserved





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~ by Stampfli & Turci on December 12, 2010.

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