Air Guitar or maybe Guitar Hero

Oil Pastel on Paper

This is what the art critics call a gestural drawing, done quickly and forcefully.  It is a style that was and is the core of the Abstract Expressionist movement.  It is oil pastel on rough naturally colored paper. My impression was that  Abstract Expressionism and American Modernism in general came out of nowhere, spontaneous generation.  One reason for that view was that Thomas Hart Benton was Jackson Pollack’s mentor and teacher at the Art Students League. Another one was that most of the most famous Abstract Expressionist painters came out of the Art Students League, a school which has always celebrated classic realism and traditional art training.  Being an Art Students League alumnus myself, I always had trouble rationalizing Abstract Expressionism with the school’s celebration of anatomical correctness in portraying the human form.  So, it was a major shocker to see the Neuberger Museum’s (put together with Philips Andover’s Addison Gallery and Harvard) “American Vanguards” show featuring the works of Gorky, Davis, De Kooning and someone I had never heard about, John Graham.  Graham was, despite the name, Russian.  There was also someone named Matulka and of course, Hans Hoffman. The show features work from 1926 onward and points out that all these guys studied in Europe (mostly Paris) or were in the case of De Kooning, Gorky, Graham and Hoffman, immigrants.  So, it seems that there was a lot going on beyond Benton, O’Keefe, Hopper and Grant Wood before Pollack, Krasner, Rothko, Mitchell, Newman and Motherwell became widely known, if not household names.  That is, Abstract Expressionism and what came after it did not suddenly appear in pond water as Creationists believe life appeared but is part of a steady and ongoing evolution in thinking and seeing.  The show at Neuberger goes on until April 29.

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