The period around 1960 was one of great artistic evolution in the United States. The long-standing influence exerted by Abstract Expressionism, a gestural type of painting and sculpture that emerged after World War II, was dwindling. Artists coming of age at this time perceived the style as mannered and academic and sought to distance themselves from its pervasive legacy. This resulted in a gradual shift in artistic approaches and philosophical attitudes. The works in this installation demonstrate both the lingering hallmarks of Abstract Expressionism and the precursors to these new artistic directions.
Frank Stella’s monumental Great Jones Street provides an example of the changing attitudes of younger artists. Though Stella retained some of the formal characteristics of Abstract Expressionism (large format and painterly qualities), he dispensed with the older generation’s desire to transmit an existential condition to the canvas. Instead, he wanted simply to “get the paint out of the can and onto the canvas” with as little inventiveness as possible. Philip Guston, central to Abstract Expressionism’s development, made a subtle but significant stylistic shift in Portrait I. At the center of the painting floats a large dark form that points to his forthcoming adoption of a cartoonish, figurative style. Al Held, Bruce Conner, Dorothy Dehner and many others participated in this rich transitional period, ultimately helping to move art in the United States in numerous directions.
Organized by Marshall N. Price, Ph.D., Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.