More than sixty years have passed since the critic Robert Coates, writing in the New Yorker in 1946, first used the term “Abstract Expressionism” to describe the richly colored canvases of Hans Hofmann. Over the years the name has come to designate the paintings and sculptures of artists as different as Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko, Lee Krasner and David Smith. Beginning in the 1940s, under the aegis of Director Alfred H. Barr, Jr., works by these artists began to enter the Museum’s collection. Thanks to the sustained support of the curators, the trustees, and the artists themselves, these ambitious acquisitions continued throughout the second half of the last century and produced a collection of Abstract Expressionist art of unrivaled breadth and depth.
Drawn entirely from the Museum’s vast holdings, Abstract Expressionist New York underscores the achievements of a generation that catapulted New York City to the center of the international art world during the 1950s, and left as its legacy some of the twentieth century’s greatest masterpieces. Galleries on the fourth floor present Abstract Expressionist paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, films, and archival materials in a display subtitled The Big Picture, marking the first time in the history of the new Museum building that a full floor has been devoted to a single theme. The exhibition continues on the floors below, where focused shows—Rock Paper Scissors in the second-floor Prints and Illustrated Books Galleries, and Ideas Not Theoriesin the third-floor Drawings Galleries—reveal distinct facets of the movement as it developed in diverse mediums, adding to a historical overview of the era and giving a sense of its great depth and complexity. The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated publication.
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