Abstract Expressionism Essay

4079 WordsMay 11, 201317 Pages
Abstract Expressionism’s Counterculture: The Club, the Cold War, and the New Sensibility by Valerie Hellstein In the popular and even scholarly imaginations, Abstract Expressionism is epitomized by the photographs of Jackson Pollock brooding over his canvas. Here, the isolated, genius artist empties his guts onto the canvas for all to see. The prevailing narrative, predicated on psychoanalytic and Sartrean notions of the self, interprets this depiction as a shift from the collectivism of the 1930s to the fraught ideological individualism of the Cold War. This narrative is bolstered by the artists‟ disavowals of group identity and vociferous claims of individuality. Willem de Kooning declared, “Personally, I do not need a movement,” and the sculptor David Hare at the Artists‟ Sessions at Studio 35 did not see the need for a community and suggested that “this group activity, this gathering together, is a symptom of fear.”i In spite of these statements, beginning in the late summer or early fall of 1949, the artists procured a loft at 39 East Eighth Street in order to have a place to gather together. Instead of the isolated, tortured artist, today, I want to suggest a different picture of the Abstract Expressionist that includes artists visiting each others‟ studios and dropping by The Club several nights a week to share the news of the day and listen to a talk or participate in a panel discussion. In our incessant focus on the individual, we have overlooked the importance of the social milieu and the crucial role The Club played in the formation of Abstract Expressionism. Its very existence and the range of discussions held there point to a different narrative for Abstract Expressionism that provides an alternative trajectory for navigating Cold War politics and one that anticipates the new sensibility and the New Left politics of the 1960s. Both Thomas Hess and

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