I recently attended a lecture at the DMA about Abstract Expressionism. The speakers were Dr. Colpitt of TCU, Charles Wylie of the DMA, and our very own Chief Curator, Michael Auping. The lecture was to raise the question, "How is Abstract Expressionism viewed today?" As I looked around, surprised to see so many students and young people in the room, I really felt as though I were experiencing a great shift in the art world. It seemed as if the very essence of art was above our heads just hanging in the balance. The rusty gears in my brain were turning and steam was billowing out of my ears as I deeply pondered this question: HOW DO WE ACCURATELY DISCUSS ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM?
From my limited knowledge, I never would have imagined Pollock's paint slinging as anything other than cutting edge. Still, I feel as if his work does not move me as much as it should. The reality is that the movement of the abstract, in it's golden era, forever changed the way art was and is viewed in post-war America; but artists are always pressing onward. Auping suggested that more recent art had a mannerist tendency, meaning that artists today are still dealing with and adjusting to the breakthrough of Ab Ex (art lingo). So the impact of this movement simply can not be undermined.
Pop Art in my opinion was a clear reaction to the abstract forms and the complete abandonment of cultural imagery. Minimalism also brought a new understanding of art which emphasized the scale and design of an object. Are these movements inextricably linked to Ab Ex? If so, then what really is the beginning of contemporary art? Do we shave off the tail end of artistic movements once they reach the 50 year mark? Should the "Modern Art Museum" ship off it's older contents to a less specialized art museum? Hint: the answer is no. Maybe that is too crude, but I do believe it is difficult to show other recent movements without Abstract Expressionism.
SO WHAT DO WE DO? Maybe we can get a special room where all the Pollocks, Rothkos, Stills, de Koonings, etc. hang out on the walls and talk about the good 'ol days while youngsters refer to the paintings as "Dinosaurs." I believe some abstract expressionists may have predicted this day where they weren't so wonderfully edgy. Francis Bacon mused that "Some artists leave remarkable things which, a 100 years later, don’t work at all. I have left my mark; my work is hung in museums, but maybe one day the Tate Gallery or the other museums will banish me to the cellar…you never know."
A terrific and defying movement, I consider Abstract Expressionism to be a radical manifestation birthed out of the human necessity to internalize the horrors and chaos of nuclear war and genocide after World War II. For my young heart, there is a sense of awe and respect for artists who gave people an outlet during a time of such great fear and anxiety.
However, right now I do feel as if I am giving the eulogy for the burial of Abstract Expressionism. My personal opinion is that it should be lumped in with great contemporary artworks. The concept may be less obvious for us today, but there should be a great deal of honor given to this movement; even if it is now sort of seen as our modern "Impressionism," as Michael Auping noted. I would agree that there is a common nostalgia about Impressionism that Abstract Expressionism has gained. It is the popular item on the museum menu these days and the artist' statements make a good read. Even beyond the hype, I do love the Ab Ex artists for their intensity, spirituality and often times, their humor.
But as great as I personally think these artists were, it does not make any sense to compare our current artists to the Abstract Expressionists or to get stuck in an artistic rut. Whatever conclusions arise, we must be very careful of creating an artistic hierarchy where the abstract expressionists are given some form of an elite status.
I now turn to you, reader. What do you think about the relevance of Abstract Expressionism? Does it still hold meaning to you? Or does it have little or no value for you? Whether you think it's relevant or not, what do you think we should do with this movement?