Reading Abstract Expressionism: Context and Critique

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Abstract Expressionism is arguably the most important art movement in postwar America. Many of its creators and critics became celebrities, participating in heated public debates that were published in newspapers, magazines, and exhibition catalogues. This up-to-date anthology is the first comprehensive collection of key critical writings about Abstract Expressionism from its inception in the 1940s to the present day.

Ellen G. Landau’s masterful introduction presents and analyzes the major arguments and crucial points of view that have surrounded the movement decade by decade. She then offers a selection of readings, also organized by decade, including influential statements by such artists as Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, and Barnett Newman as well as the commentary of diverse critics. Offering new insights into the development of Abstract Expressionism, this rich anthology also demonstrates the ongoing impact of this revolutionary and controversial movement.

Reading Abstract Expressionism is essential for the library of any curator, scholar, or student of twentieth-century art.

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Editorial Reviews

Art Documentation
“A dynamic contribution to the literature. Recommended for academic, art and public libraries with significant holdings in twentieth century art.”
From the Publisher
“I know of no equivalent record of this movement, no gathering of such wonderfully instructive documentation of the most important collective creation of American visual culture.”—David Carrier, author of Principles of Art History Writing
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300106138
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 3/11/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 716
  • Sales rank: 1,435,393
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 9.04 (h) x 2.27 (d)

Meet the Author

Ellen G. Landau is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities, Department of Art History and Art, Case Western University. Her previous books include Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner: A Catalogue Raisonné.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : abstract expressionism : changing methodologies for interpreting meaning 1
The 1940s : mythologizing the movement
Excerpt from letter to his sister Vartoosh 125
Excerpt from "Art in New York" 125
Excerpts from "The modern painter's world" 129
A questionnaire 132
Thesis 133
Application for a Guggenheim Fellowship 135
The ideographic picture 135
The sublime is now 137
My painting 139
The romantics were prompted 140
Excerpts from System and dialectics of art 142
Excerpt from "The realm of art : a new platform; 'globalism' pops into view" 146
Excerpt from "Whither goes abstract and surrealist art? 150
A problem for critics 152
Editorial preface 153
The intrasubjectives 154
The 1950s : establishing authority
Excerpts from artists' sessions at Studio 35 159
David Smith makes a sculpture 165
Statement 171
de Kooning paints a picture 172
Artist's statement 180
The legacy of Jackson Pollock 181
In the galleries : Franz Kline 188
The American action painters 189
"American-type painting" 198
Excerpts from "The liberating quality of avant-garde art" 215
International reaction to Alfred H. Barr Jr., "The new American painting" 220
Revista 220
La Libre Belgique 221
Le Phare 221
Der Tagesspiegel 222
The 1960s : consolidating the canon
The unwanted title : abstract expressionism 229
We interview Lee Krasner 236
The abstract sublime 239
Excerpts from American abstract expressionists and imagists 245
The biomorphic '40s 250
Jackson Pollock 256
Concerning the beginnings of the New York School, 1939-1943 : an interview with Peter Busa and Matta, conducted in Minneapolis in December 1966 263
Concerning the beginnings of the New York School, 1939-1943 : an interview with Robert Motherwell conducted in New York in January 1967 276
The 1970s : emerging contexts and closer readings
Jungian aspects of Jackson Pollock's imagery 293
Residual sign systems in abstract expressionism 313
Robert Motherwell's Elegies to the Spanish Republic 324
Excerpt from "Abstract expressionism : the politics of apolitical painting," part 3 338
Graham, Gorky, de Kooning and the "Ingres revival" in America 346
Symbolic pregnance in Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still 361
The 1980s : reading new significations
The new adventures of the avant-garde in America : Greenberg, Pollock, or from Trotskyism to the New Liberalism of the "vital center" 383
James Joyce and the first generation New York School 399
The market for abstract expressionism : the time lag between critical and commercial acceptance 415
The impact of Nietzsche and Northwest Coast Indian art on Barnett Newman's idea of redemption in the abstract sublime 422
The rhetoric of abstract expressionism 442
1990s : re(de)fining abstract expressionism
Martha Graham and abstract expressionism 489
"Introduction," "Abstract expressionism and Afro-American marginalisation," and "Dissent during the McCarthy period" 510
Modern man discourse and the New York School 527
In defense of abstract expressionism 535
Reconsidering the stain : on gender, identity, and New York School painting 560
Of the earth, the damned, and of the recreated : aspects of Clyfford Still's earlier work 580
Excerpt from "Water and lipstick : de Kooning in transition" 594
Barnett Newman's stripe paintings and Kabbalah : a Jewish take 615
Arcadian nightmares : the evolution of David Smith and Dorothy Dehner's work at Bolton Landing 625
The crisis of the easel picture 645
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