Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy

14 November 2016 § Leave a comment

Abstract Expressionism was a watershed moment in the evolution of 20th-century art, yet, remarkably, there has been no major survey of the movement since 1959.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Jackson Pollock

It is a movement that has been tainted with the political interference of the American Government who sought to position the movement, and by association, the country at the heart of creative and artistic world during the cold war (excellent Independent feature here. Were we all ‘conned’ in to believing that these artists were better or more interesting than they perhaps really were?

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Jackson Pollock David Smith

Most emphatically the answer is no. This glorious exhibition should be an eye opener to those who have grown up with a predominance of conceptual, performance and installation art and the idea that painting was deeply unfashionable.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Mark Rothko

The Royal Academy looks at this the “age of anxiety” surrounding the Second World War and the years of free jazz and Beat poetry, artists like Pollock, Rothko and de Kooning broke from accepted conventions to unleash a new confidence in painting.

The scale of the works was a revelation as was their intense spontaneity. At other times they are more contemplative, presenting large fields of colour that border on the sublime. These radical creations redefined the nature of painting, and were intended not simply to be admired from a distance but as two-way encounters between artist and viewer.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Arshile Gorky

The exhibition begins wth some fascinating early smalls scale works from the major players, followed by a room dedicated to Arshile Gorky, an acknowledged forerunner of the movement.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Jackson Pollock

The largest gallery is given over to Jackson Pollock with an impressive display of some rarely lent works.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Clifford Still

‘Gesture as Colour’ is the theme of another room that is once again full rarely lent works. This time by Clyfford Still who employs great fields of colour to evoke dramatic conflicts between man and nature taking place on a monumental scale.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Franz Kline

For ‘The Violent Mark’ we get some fabulous canvases from Franz Kline, before other rooms largely filled with Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Willem de Kooning

Right through the exhibition a series of fine David Smith sculptures effectively tie the rooms together and provide respite from the huge canvases. Appropriately he often said “I belong with the painters” and considered that his work was painting rendered in 3D.

Sadly however, historically peripheral and unfairly overlooked figures remain that way. The RA offers no insightful re-assesment of these artists, especially female. The suspicion remains of establishment misogny and a movement whose defining elements are frozen in time and too well established to even be discussed.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Janet Sobel

We have one abstraction by Janet Sobel, who may have influenced Pollock, there are few by Lee Krasner, Pollock’s wife, whose career was long overshadowed by his. Joan Mitchell is only represented in passing.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Joan Mitchell

Despite this minor criticism this is a tremendous exhibition providing a long overdue look at a movement that has has rather unfairly been deemed unfashionable. Don’t miss.

For more information visit www.royalacademy.org.uk

art by animals – a new exhibition at ucl

3 February 2012 § Leave a comment

Some while back I wrote about animal art (see blog). In was partly in jest, mostly because of an elaborate ‘cat painters’ hoax, but also because of dog ‘artists’ who are just trained to jab a brush at a canvas. However, in respect of chimps I am much more open-minded about potential artistic talent. I am quite willing to believe that they do have the ability to create what they conceive as visually interesting patterns (art?), viz Congo the chimp (pictured) who also actually has an excellent auction record!

I am determined therefore to visit an unusual and quirky exhibition that has just opened at UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology. Paintings by orang-utans, gorillas, chimpanzees and elephants feature in what is believed to be the first multi species art show. Pieces includes a painting of a flowerpot created by an elephant called Boon Me, formerly involved in the Thai logging industry, and a tiny finger painting by a chimp.

From early modernists like Picasso to abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock artists have often sought primitive influences. Sometimes it is by using outside inspiration from artwork by primitive peoples, children or even the insane and at others perhaps seeking to go internally to an unconscious or primitive self. How does this differ from the work created by the genuinely ‘primitive’ animal? If primitive or subconscious art is somehow considered more ‘real’ then is animals art not even more genuine that that of the artist? An interesting philosophical question to which I doubt there is a simple answer!

The museum says it hopes the exhibition will help answer the question of whether animal art is really art. “That’s the big question,” said Jack Ashby, the museum manager. “While elephants can be trained to always paint the same thing, art by apes is a lot more creative and is almost indistinguishable from abstract art by humans. Ape art is often compared to that of two or three-year-old children in the ‘scribble stage’. ” Co-curator Mike Tuck, a graduate of the UCL Slade School of Fine Art, said the show was an attempt to take a “broad view of the phenomenon.”

See a short clip from the BBC here.

ART BY ANIMALS  runs from 1 February to 9 March 2012, M-F 1300-1700.

Grant Museum of Zoology, Rockefeller Building, University College London, University Street, WC1E 6DE. Free.


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