Sunday, October 31, 2010

Abstract Expressionism at the Museum of Modern Art

Odds are I won't actually get to visit NYC to see firsthand the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition Abstract Expressionist New York.  So the next best thing was to get the related book, Abstract Expressionism at the MoMA by Ann Temkin.

Overall it's an OK book.  Looking at paintings in a book obviously pales in comparison to seeing the real thing.  But the plates included in the book are well chosen and let you find similarities in certain works (whether they really exist or not - for example, de Kooning's A Tree in Naples and Hartigan's Shinnecock Canal) and insight into others (how can you look at Pollock's Untitled (4) and say his signature paintings don't include figuration).

In her introduction, Temkin draws an interesting conclusion about abex art by comparing it to our modern electronic world.  The abex style and television both came into being shortly after WWII.  While abex relied on creating a private emotional experience, television relied on its mass-market appeal.  Today we talk about information overload, short attention spans, and constant interruptions from electronic devices of all sorts.  Temkin concludes "In a world that likes its culture fast, Abstract Expressionist works are uncompromisingly slow."  I agree - slow, mysterious, and emotional.

Robert Motherwell's Open Number 24 in Variations of Orange, 1968 is a standout in AbEx at the MoMA.  (And that's not just because I'm a Syracuse University alum.)

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