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Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940–1976

Friday, February 13–Sunday, June 14, 2009

Willem de Kooning (American, born The Netherlands, 1904–1997). Gotham News, 1955. Oil on canvas, 69 x 79 inches (175.3 x 200.7 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1955. © 2010 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Organized by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in collaboration with The Jewish Museum, New York, and the Saint Louis Art Museum, this special exhibition revisits the watershed period of American art from 1940 to 1976 through the writings of its two primary critics: Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg. Curators of the exhibition are Norman L. Kleeblatt, Susan and Elihu Rose Chief Curator, The Jewish Museum; Douglas Dreishpoon, Chief Curator, Albright-Knox Art Gallery; Maurice Berger, the senior research scholar at the Center for Art, Design, and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland; and Charlotte Eyerman, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Saint Louis Art Museum.

In a period fueled by Cold War politics, the mushrooming of mass media, and surging consumerism, Rosenberg promoted action—his idea of the creative, physical act of making art—against Greenberg’s belief in abstraction and the formal purity of the art object. The artists they championed included Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Hans Hofmann and Arshile Gorky, Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell, Jules Olitski and Philip Guston, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. Action/Abstraction presents key paintings and sculptures from this decisive era, surveying the first generation of Abstract Expressionists as well as later artists who built on their achievements. Context rooms in the exhibition feature objects and moving images—including personal correspondence, publications, film clips, and photographs—that shed light on the cultural and social climate of the 1940s through the 1970s. An additional installation of ephemera drawn from the Albright-Knox’s rich archives documents the Gallery’s institutional history with the movement. The works in the exhibition, arranged in thematic sections, are grouped to evoke the rivalry of Greenberg and Rosenberg and the epic transformation of American art in the postwar period.

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Featured Artists

Lee Bontecou
Anthony Caro
Herbert Ferber
Helen Frankenthaler
Arshile Gorky
Philip Guston
David Hare
Grace Hartigan
Hans Hofmann
Jasper Johns
Allan Kaprow/Martha Rosler
Willem de Kooning
Lee Krasner
Ibram Lassaw
Norman Lewis
Seymour Lipton
Morris Louis
Joan Mitchell
Robert Motherwell
Barnett Newman
Kenneth Noland
Claes Oldenburg
Jules Olitski
Jackson Pollock
Ad Reinhardt
Mark Rothko
Peter Saul
David Smith
Saul Steinberg
Frank Stella
Clyfford Still
Anne Truitt

The exhibition has been organized by The Jewish Museum, New York in collaboration with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo and the Saint Louis Art Museum. Leadership support has been provided by the Weissman Family Foundation, The National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency, and the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation. The exhibition is sponsored by the Jerome L. Greene Foundation. The exhibition is made possible in Western New York through the generous support of M&T Bank; the late Judge John T. Elfvin and Peggy Pierce Elfvin; the Seymour H. Knox Foundation; The John R. Oishei Foundation; the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation; the New York Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities; Deborah Ronnen; and Sotheby’s. The media sponsor for the exhibition is WNED. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the New York Council for the Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.