In presenting this selection of Contemporary American Art, the Museum of Ancient and Modern Art opted for taking a critical stand in relation to these works.
The reasons for this decision are numerous and will be more fully elucidated as visitors encounter the art and assimilate the informational background for this exhibit.
When dealing with contemporary art, we are all of course dealing with untested waters. Celebrities today are most often forgotten tomorrow.
The big question we all have concerns the ultimate fate of all those represented here. Will these superstars survive the century? Will they be respected 100 years from now? Will they be remembered 500 years from now? Or will they all be considered just a passing fad or phenomenon that died when the wind turned?
Of course, none of us can really answer those questions. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be asked. Quite the contrary. This exhibit is intended to give pause to visitors, to encourage them to reflect a moment on the final judgment of time. And to decide for themselves what is deserving of survival and what is hopelessly ephemeral and temporary.
In the early twenties the "School of Paris" was an international force establishing itself as a dominant influence of this century. Paris was unrivaled as the center of the art world. Even Rome and London had little impact on the prestige and influence that emanated from this center.
In the early 1940s, because of the war in Europe and particularly the German occupation of Paris, many famous Parisian based artists, along with thousands of individuals, fled to New York City.
This artistic exodus brought influential surrealists and abstractionists, including Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy, Andre Masson, Marcel Duchamp, Arshile Gorky - in short, the leading lights of European avant-garde - into contact with American artists.
The impact was tremendous and very soon New York superseded Paris as an international art center and the School of Paris was eclipsed by the New York School. This marked the beginning of the international recognition of American art.
The still-living and painting American master, Willem de Kooning, is a heroic figure from the artistic upheavals of the 40s and 50s. With Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky, de Kooning developed throughout the 40s a distinctively American response to European Modernism, Surrealist imagery and - most important - automatic painting methods, and the cultural trauma of the holocaust and World War II.
One of the first generation Abstract Expressionists, Motherwell, a Harvard graduate, was also the most articulate as writer and speaker about the painters' aims.
His own canvases are very simple, practically without content or significance in the forms, but on the other hand heroic in size and bursting with mute emotions that communicate to a viewer who participates in the artist's inner tension by gazing at the canvas.
Warhol is the artist (or "machine" as he admitted) that pop are created. With a background in advertising, Warhol exploited the "camp" or shock effect of portraying the most banal, impersonal items and elevating the endlessly repeated industrial item to art object - i.e., the Campbell's soup can.
Max represents another element in the American art scene, the artist who produces fine art after already achieving celebrity in a commercial field, in his case, commercial and advertising art. Others with this career pattern are famous (or infamous) authors Henry Miller and William Burroughs, and rock musician (the late) John Lennon.
An artist of the generation of Rauschenberg and Johns, Alex Katz early on made a choice of stylistic elements and kept to it as a formula for most of his work. Working from the pop art rationale, he uses flattened and oversized two-dimensional forms for his portraits.
With a mixture of seriousness and whimsy, this exhibit demonstrates the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the artists who were raised on Abstract Expressionism and who became the first and second generation of innovators after this school in the 50s and 60s. It presents a broad selection of works in the light of a critical historical perspective.
The artists included range from one of the grand old masters of Abstract Expressionism, Willem de Kooning, age 86, to members of the extreme abstractionist group such as Robert Motherwell, deceased at age 76, and whimsical experimentalists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, E.J. Gold and Ed Ruscha.
It also includes representational painters who used stylized commercial pop-art imagery - Andy Warhol, Alex Katz, Jim Dine, William Crutchfield and Peter Max; and Ellsworth Kelly the op-artist. In addition, visitors will discover the works of Saul Steinberg, famous for his numerous New Yorker magazine covers; Larry Rivers, an eclectic painter and collaborator with the late poet, Frank O'Hara, Lowell Nesbitt with his huge flowers, and the beautiful sculpture of George Segal.
Dine worked with Oldenberg in New York during the early sixties on "happenings", and continued to collaborate on theater and dance projects. He designed costumes for a production of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream in the mid-sixties, using costumes that showed fluorescent under blacklights.
The pieces exhibited here are a graphic spin-off from a theatrical collaboration. Costumes are a natural for Dine, who specialized in portraying articles of clothing, particularly his own bathrobes, as if they were themselves models.
THAT MADE IT HAPPEN
For more than two decades Gemini G.E.L. (Graphic Editions Limited) in Los Angeles, California, has functioned as a center for artists' collaborations. Established in 1966 by three partners (Sidney B. Felsen, Stanley Grinstein and Kenneth Tyler), Gemini has published to date more than 1,100 works of art, including edition prints and sculpture as well as monoprints and one-of-a-kind dimensional pieces.
Many of Gemini's publications, among the most imaginative of the last twenty years, received immediate critical acclaim and have maintained their stature as works representing our time. Indeed, the widespread contemporary interest in works of art issued in editions is due to a receptive public that considers art implicit in our definition of culture.
Gemini began operations in February 1966 in an atmosphere of enthusiasm for prints and edition sculpture that had been expanding since the late 1950s. Many artists of prominence had already acknowledged the possibility of extending their ideas by collaborating on editions, which functioned as a direct counter to the personal angst associated with abstract expressionism.
Working in an edition format also allowed artists' work to reach a wider audience. From the start Gemini's publications attracted interest from the private collectors, museums, art galleries and corporate clients that had formed the burgeoning audience for prints during the past few decades: "[The workshop played] a major role in breaking down communication barriers between a wide spectrum of New York artists and the Southern California audience . . . a number of major New York artists frequently visit Los Angeles to work at Gemini. As a result, artistic and social interchange now takes place between the two centers."
The three original partners in the Gemini G.E.L. Enterprise, Sidney B. Felsen, Stanley Grinstein and Kenneth Tyler (who left the partnership in 1973), shared the desire to publish the work of artists they admired by facilitating projects that required special technology or materials inaccessible in the artists' own studios. Their focus initially was on printmaking, but after a few years, in response to Claes Oldenburg's interest in producing profile airflow (Cat. No. 14), sculpture projects were added to their accomplishment.
In this respect the Gemini G.E.L. Workshop has had an organic development, responding both to the different artists who have worked there and to the changing interests of those who have returned repeatedly over the last two decades.
The role of the publisher in art produced in the United States since 1960 has been extremely important and influential. The publisher formulates a broad aesthetic position and then provides support - both financial and moral - for artists whose work falls within its scope of interest. Felsen and Grinstein, friends since college, both with a strong interest in art, and Tyler, a print maker, each approached publishing from different directions.
Some of the artists who have worked at Gemini G.E.L. over the years and whose works are on display here include Oldenburg, Rauschenberg, Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Crutchfield, de Kooning, Motherwell and Ruscha.
Ruscha's main contribution, along the lines of "conceptual art", is to paint language, words and slogans, producing odd effects for the viewer.
Both more serious and more whimsical than, say, Andy Warhol, closer to Rivers and Oldenburg, Ruscha went on to experiment extensively with painting and printing with non-art materials, like foods, gunpowder, blood and so on, often to create elaborate puns.
The clown prince of 1960s art, Oldenburg became famous in the "happenings" era in New York City. Along with Ed Kienholz from the West Coast and Red Grooms in New York, Oldenburg was the first of the pop artists to construct entire elaborate environments, like The Lingerie Shop and The Store.
There is a strong tie to Warhol's process here, with the modified commercial-art style and repetition, even obsession, of subject matter.
The New York School, also known as Abstract Expressionism, has become one of the most important art movements of this century. All the leaders of this movement command the highest prices among artists today, and all of them are part of the permanent collections of the museums which have assembled major contemporary American art collections.
Of course, with all this success the artists rarely benefit from a higher income since all this wheeling and dealing occurs on the secondary market.
The maneuvers used by rich and soon to be powerful art dealers as well as the influence of key curators in order to establish these artists as leading figures is a matter that history will judge in due time. In any case, however, it was achieved, these names reign supreme.
The New York School opened the doors to Pop Art and Op Art. Its influence has many ramifications and we are now witness to second and third generation artists whose direction has been determined by a path laid out in the early 1950s - artists who have either developed that style further or reacted against it.
Kelly is one of the best known of the so-called "post-painterly abstractionists", who shifted to hard-edge, smooth surfaced geometric abstracts.
Kelly stayed in Paris after the War and learned geometric painting there from the Constructivist painters. Returning to New York to discover Abstract Expressionism, Kelly's response was to enlarge his geometric abstractions to the heroic size of the New York painters, and thereby intensify the effects.
Throughout his career, Kelly has typically experimented with intense primary colors in juxtaposition - reds, blues, greens.
Like the pop artists and especially Rauschenberg, this gifted illustrator thoroughly rejects the program of abstraction, in favor of significance in his art: signs, symbols, puzzles, puns and wry comments fill his drawings and prints.
Pop-art at its worst was gross, loud and over-simplified. This example of Ting's work is perhaps not the best representation of his style, but it certainly conveys the extremes to which it went in its most caricatural form.
"At the height of Abstract Expressionism", Larry Rivers painted realistic pictures that incorporated common words and popular signs or, like Washington Crossing the Delaware (1953), took as their subject a national cliché. Handling paint with an Abstract Expressionist's energy, Rivers was a realist with an eye for mass culture, and his collage-inspired compositions were a bridge between Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art.
American Prints: Process & Proofs
Specializing in transfer techniques and randomity in composition, Rauschenberg has worked extensively with prints, as well as collage and sculpture, always exploring the edges of meaning. He has been known from early in his career for providing zen-like illuminations in the phantom zone where newspaper, magazine, television advertising and news images mix with controlled artistic elements - color, texture, composition, rhythm.