We can briefly return to Mexican muralism. Diego Rivera’s political leanings become more apparent as we look at the recreation of this RCA mural in Mexico City and the presence of a portrait of one of the most important politcal leaders of that day, Leon Trotsky. By beginning today’s conversation with this almost hidden reference to Trotsky, we can begin to discuss the political meanings behind mid-century modernist art, as well as the conditions in which this art was made, much of it by artists in exile. Trotsky was a Ukranian-born Bolshevik revolutionary, Marxist, and leader of the October Revolution in Russia. He was expelled from the Communist party during the rise of Stalin and deported. While living in exile in Mexico, he continued to be outspoken against Stalin and was eventually executed by a Soviet Agent. He also had a brief affair with the artist Frida Kahlo while living in one of hers and Diego’s houses in Mexico. All three figures (Diego, Frida, and Trotsky) believed in the cause of the proletariat to revolt and forge a new democratic state that would share control of the means of production.
This is where we’ll begin today’s discussion of Mexican muralism and Surrealism – two important influences on the American movement, Abstract Expressionism. Its most prominent figure was Pollock, an artist whose work reflects the many artistic styles in practice during mid-century America, especially muralism and surrealism. We’ll come back to Pollock later.
Much of the innovations of mid-century modern art will depend on this mass exile of artists to New York. Their styles and processes of artmaking will be adopted and modified. They’ll interact at lectures, exhibitions. This will encourage the development of Abstract Expressionism. Masson’s work created by manipulating a number of materials on surface of canvas, including sand, and delineating the emergence of “irrational” forms. The subject is a savage battle among sharp-toothed fishes, which reflects Masson’s belief that life is savage, a lesson he learned from his service and subsequent injuries in WWI. He joined the Surrealists in 1924.
Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945. WWII lasted from 1939-45.
Perhaps much of mid-century modern art was a response to the devastation of WWII. What kind of world can be envisioned in paint following the Holocaust and the atomic bomb? Can one even go on just making paintings? Although Mark Rothko’s paintings are often appreciated for their decorative qualities (harmonious color combinations), he stated that they were meant to be anything but decorative. Believing that his work should express enduring themes, such as tragedy and ecstasy, he painted what can be interpreted as vast, desolate landscapes that dwarf man as he stands in front of them. Man may feel small, inconsequential in comparison to the sublimity of the world before him, particularly as its revealed through war or space exploration. This idea of the sublime (the feeling of awe or terror often with respect to nature) is not dissimilar to its manifestation in the early 19 th century, in the aftermath of the French and American revolutions. This is just one way of looking at the work of these American abstract painters, such as Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and Rothko.
Willem de Kooning - Dutch artist, began as figurative painter -received important solo show in 1948 -painted with a “tight grip on brish and nervous twists of wrists” (Art Since 1900) -tight control, wiping out and starting over
Week 6 Lecture, 20th Century
<ul><li>History of 20 th Century Art </li></ul><ul><li>1940 - 1949 </li></ul>The Rothko Chapel, Houston, Tx.
1942 – American artists & critics distance themselves from Marxism and politically-driven avant-garde aesthetics <ul><li>Recreation of destroyed mural in Rockefeller Center, New York </li></ul><ul><li>Demonstrates Rivera’s Marxist beliefs and aversion to U.S. capitalism </li></ul><ul><li>Juxtaposes opposing ideologies (militaristic U.S. & Communist Russia) with man, the worker, at center </li></ul><ul><li>Among recognizable portraits (Lenin, Marx), Leon Trotsky is included </li></ul><ul><li>Rivera and wife Frida Kahlo provided refuge for Trotsky while living in Mexico in exile </li></ul>Diego Rivera, Man, Controller of the Universe , 1934, fresco, Museu del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City
Towards a Free Revolutionary Art <ul><li>Breton met Trotsky in Mexico </li></ul><ul><li>Together they wrote a manifesto entitled “Toward a Free Revolutionary Art” in 1938 (though it was signed by Breton and Rivera) </li></ul><ul><li>It called for an International Federation of Independent Revolutionary Art </li></ul><ul><li>Influential on Greenberg’s ideas, which aligns emerging American abstraction with the mural movement and surrealism </li></ul>Man Ray, Andre Breton , 1930 “ the struggle for revolutionary ideas in art must begin with the struggle for artistic truth , not in terms of any single school, but in terms of the immutable faith of the artist in his own inner self .” -Leon Trotsky Hans Namuth Clement Greenberg outside Jackson Pollock’s studio, 1951
Surrealism and Abstraction <ul><li>Breton, (the “Pope of surrealism”), championed artists who continued in the surrealist tradition </li></ul><ul><li>Breton prefaced an exhibition of Paalen’s “fumages” (touching a smoking candle to primed surface) </li></ul><ul><li>Akin to surrealist automatism and Max Ernst’s techniques: frottage (rubbing, usu. on wood grain) and grattage (scraping paint off canvas laid over objects) </li></ul><ul><li>Discovery of latent images like surrealist “objective chance” </li></ul>Wolfgang Paalen , Ciel de Pieuvre (Octopus Sky), 1939 fumage and oil on canvas Max Ernst, Forest , 1927-28, grattage and oil on canvas
1942 – The Anxiety of Influence: Modernism Moves Stateside <ul><li>Group portrait from Artists in Exile show at Pierre Matisse Gallery, NYC </li></ul><ul><li>Includes Breton, Ernst, Chagall, Mondrian, Tanguy, Leger, Matta, etc </li></ul><ul><li>Many had fled Europe following persecution by Nazi regime </li></ul><ul><li>Many given retrospectives and one-man shows in American museums around this time </li></ul><ul><li>The New York School of American modernist painters indebted to these artists </li></ul>Artists in Exile , March 1942, New York Andre Masson, Battle of Fishes , 1926, sand, gesso, oil , etc
A Few New Surrealist Recruits <ul><li>A Chilean painter </li></ul><ul><li>Initially studied architecture </li></ul><ul><li>Applied this to his “inscapes” (a kind of landscape of the mind) inspired by psychoanalysis </li></ul><ul><li>Also influenced by world politics and disastrous events of war </li></ul><ul><li>Biomorphic (cosmic and organic) & mechanomorphic abstraction </li></ul><ul><li>Linear perspective suggested, but interrupted </li></ul><ul><li>Later expelled from Surrealist group by Breton </li></ul>Roberto Matta, Years of Fear , 1941-42, oil "I am interested only in the unknown” -Matta Yves Tanguy Suffering Softens Stones 1948 oil
A Few New Surrealist Recruits <ul><li>Gorky fled Armenian Genocide in 1915 with mother and sisters </li></ul><ul><li>Mother later died of starvation </li></ul><ul><li>Arrived in U.S. in 1920 </li></ul><ul><li>Changed name to reinvent identity </li></ul><ul><li>Endured series of tragedies and ultimately committed suicide </li></ul>Arshile Gorky, Artist and his Mother 1926-36 <ul><li>Style influenced by Matta </li></ul><ul><li>(e.g. thinning paint) </li></ul><ul><li>Also influenced by Miro, </li></ul><ul><li>Picasso, Kandinsky </li></ul><ul><li>Allowed Breton to title his works, but never became official Surrealist </li></ul>Gorky, The Liver is the Cock’s Comb , 1944
1943 – Harlem Renaissance <ul><li>James A. Porter’s Modern Negro Art is published </li></ul><ul><li>Presented a history of African-American art from its beginning </li></ul><ul><li>Lawrence represents in serial form Great Migration from South to North between WWI & WWII for those seeking economic opportunities and escape from racist Jim Crow laws </li></ul><ul><li>When published in Fortune mag, solidified his reputation </li></ul><ul><li>Renaissance also nurtured by nationalist and separatist ideas of Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey (“return to origin” beliefs) </li></ul><ul><li>W.E.B du Bois’s beliefs in unity, racial pride, and parity with white Americans most influential </li></ul><ul><li>Art should express this vision </li></ul>Jacob Lawrence, from The Migration of the Negro , 1940 Jacob Lawrence Pool Parlor 1942
1943 – The “New Negro” <ul><li>Identity of “New Negro” (Alain Locke) shaped by African heritage as seen through lens of European modernism </li></ul><ul><li>To re-envision “primitive” aesthetics as sources of national pride & identity </li></ul><ul><li>A reconsideration of the aestheticized and fetishized mask </li></ul><ul><li>Painted while artist was in Paris </li></ul>Lois Malliou-Jones, Les Fetiches , 1938 Detail from Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon 1907
Imaging the “New Negro” <ul><li>Van der Zee was the premier photographer of Harlem Ren. </li></ul><ul><li>Styled and retouched own portraits (painted backdrops, etc) </li></ul><ul><li>To show positive portraits of prosperous African-Americans in NYC during the </li></ul><ul><li>Harlem Ren. </li></ul>James Van Der Zee, Family Portrait , 1926 Lorna Simpson, 9 Props 1995, photo on felt <ul><li>Had vases in van </li></ul><ul><li>Der Zee’s photos recreated </li></ul><ul><li>Photographed them isolated with text on felt </li></ul><ul><li>Modernist examination of the construction of Black identity </li></ul>
Picturing Black Identity Seydou Keita, Man with Flower , 1959/1998 Kehinde Wiley, from Black Light , 2009
A “Visual Vocabulary for Black America”? <ul><li>Considered “official” artist of Harlem Ren. </li></ul><ul><li>Work shows hybrid aesthetic </li></ul><ul><li>Teacher Winold Reiss (Art Deco artist) encouraged his interest in tribal art forms and European modernism (cubism) </li></ul><ul><li>Shared Precisionist interest in clean lines and American landscape? </li></ul><ul><li>Most acclaimed project was his mural series Aspects of Negro Life , painted for WPA in 1934 </li></ul>Aaron Douglas, The Creation , 1935, oil on masonite Our problem is to conceive, develop, establish an art era. Let’s bare our arms and plunge them deep through the laughter, through pain, through sorrow, through hope, through disappointment, into the very depths of the souls of our people and drag forth material crude, rough neglected. Then let’s sing it, dance it, write it, paint it…Let’s create something transcendentally material, mystically objective, Earthy. Spiritually earthy. Dynamic.
1945 - The Aftermath of World War II Shogo Yamahata, Nagasaki, 1945
Abstraction & The Sublime Mark Rothko, Untitled , 1969 Caspar David Friedrich, Monk by the Sea , 1809
1947 – The Irascibles <ul><li>Now known as Abstract Expressionists, this group didn’t receive its name until 1952 </li></ul><ul><li>They banded together in reaction to a juried exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1950 due to what they call the Met’s “hostility to advanced art” </li></ul><ul><li>This photo published in Life magazine in Jan 1951 and joint letter of protest published on front page of the New York Times in May 1950 </li></ul><ul><li>Includes Smith, Baziotes, Gottlieb, de Kooning, Motherwell, Newman, Pollock, Rothko and Still </li></ul><ul><li>Though grouped together stylistically, not a cohesive movement; each had own idiosyncratic mark </li></ul><ul><li>1947 watershed year (Pollock’s first drips, de Kooning solo show, etc) </li></ul>Nina Leen, The Irascibles , 1950
<ul><li>In 1940, some of us woke up to find ourselves without hope—to find that painting did not really exist…The awakening had the exaltation of a revolution. It was that awakening that inspired the aspiration…to start from scratch, to paint as if painting never existed before. It was that naked revolutionary moment that made painters out of painters. </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>-Barnett Newman </li></ul></ul></ul></ul>Pablo Picasso, Guernica , 1937 <ul><li>Many worked for Works Progress Administration under FDR during 1930s </li></ul><ul><li>Most aligned with radical politics, including the Communist party </li></ul><ul><li>Debated the relationship between art and politics (having had been aware of and inspired by Picasso’s Guernica ) </li></ul><ul><li>Some influenced by the Mexican muralists & American regionalists </li></ul><ul><li>An enthusiasm for and rejection of surrealism (rejection of the surrealist emphasis on narrative and retaining the surrealist interest in primitivism and psychoanalysis) </li></ul><ul><li>A collective feeling of inferiority in the face of European modernism </li></ul><ul><li>Exposure to European modernism in NYC </li></ul>1947 – The Irascibles
From the Automatic to the Autographic <ul><li>How do we make sense of “American-type” painting? </li></ul>De Kooning, Untitled , 1948-49, oil “ Individual plight against American consumerism”? -Schapiro “ freedom and engagement of the self” ? A record of the artist’s performance or presence?
The New York School Robert Motherwell, At Five in the Afternoon , 1949 Mark Rothko, No. 3/No.13 (Magenta, Black, Green and Orange) , 1949 <ul><li>Title taken from a refrain in a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca, lamenting the death of a bullfighter </li></ul><ul><li>From his Elegy to the Spanish Republic Series , 140 paintings begun in 1948 </li></ul>
<ul><li>Pollock received one-man show at Betty Parsons Gallery in 1949 </li></ul><ul><li>With Pollock’s ascent, AbEx became mainstream </li></ul><ul><li>Exported as American cultural policy under Marshall Plan (post-War European Recovery Program) </li></ul><ul><li>Synonymous with new American “freedom” during Cold-War </li></ul><ul><li>An American art? </li></ul>1949 – Jackson Pollock: “Is he the greatest living painter in the US?” Life magazine , 1949
1949 – A Melting Pot Aesthetic? Pollock, Autumn Rhythm (No. 30) , 1950, oil and enamel
1949 – A Melting Pot Aesthetic? <ul><li>Hybrid style influenced by Surrealism (automatism), Regionalism (the American heartland, the frontier), Native American art, Mexican muralism (in scale – Siquieros), etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Pollock studied briefly with the American regionalist Thomas Hart Benton </li></ul><ul><li>Studied Jungian psychoanalysis (the collective unconscious) beginning in 1939 </li></ul><ul><li>Rejected European refinement or “French cooking” (“F*@k Picasso!”) </li></ul>Jackson Pollock, Going West , 1934-35 Thomas Hart Benton, Arts of the West , 1932 Pollock, Moon Woman Cuts the Circle , 1943
Action! Painting <ul><li>Began to drip house paint on unstretched canvas on his barn floor in 1946-47 (in rural Long Island, NY) </li></ul><ul><li>Relinquished authorship? Gravity and viscosity determine the works to a large degree </li></ul><ul><li>B y abandoning brush to canvas, he broke with traditional </li></ul><ul><li>painting </li></ul><ul><li>By 1953, broke with </li></ul><ul><li>drip process & figures </li></ul><ul><li>returned </li></ul><ul><li>Died in car crash in 1956 </li></ul>When I am in my painting, I am not aware of what I am doing. It is only after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about…painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through’ - Pollock, from Possibilities , 1947 Hans Namuth, Photograph of Jackson Pollock painting, 1950 http:// www.youtube.com/watch?v =6cgBvpjwOGo
“ A Mass of Tangled Hair”?: Understanding Pollock Hans Namuth Clement Greenberg outside Jackson Pollock’s studio, 1951 to render substance entirely optical and forms as an integral part of ambient space—this brings anti-illusionism full circle. Instead of the illusion of things, we are now offered the illusion of modalities; namely, that matter is incorporeal, weightless, and exists only optically like a mirage. -Greenberg on modernist painting massive crypto-landscapes -TJ Clark anti-form -Robert Morris