American Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy. Liberation
Wow – a show worth seeing. For the first time in a generation a super collection of the masters of American Abstract Expressionism brought together under one roof.
Upon first entering the galleries I was struck by the quietness. Looking around, most people seemed to be using head-phones, concentrating carefully on the explanations, trying to and all being well succeeding in gaining an understanding of what this significant movement in art was all about.
On display are works by many artists but in particular of course Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Willem de Kooning and Barnett Newman. So, we are treated to a display of the turning point in American Art, when the USA grew up and could take on the established art world of Europe and Russia.
Influenced by German Expressionism, Abstract artists such as Kandinsky and the Russian Supremist Kazmir Malevich, Abstract Expressionism very soon became a landmark. The New York art critic Clement Greenberg
claiming the USA was now leading the world of art and indeed the movement was used by the USA powers as an influence of USA hegemony over a displaced, dispirited, depressed Europe. The American icons Mickey Mouse, Santa Claus, Coca-Cola and now Abstract Expressionism were the vogue future in contrast to the perceived threat of Soviet Communism. Consider this alongside the bedrock of home spun apple pie epitomised by the likes of Jimmy Stewart’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and Norman Rockwell with his weekly Saturday Evening Post illustrations.
But it was much more than that of course. It was liberation, it was self-expression, it was media specificity, it was the freedom from hierarchical art historical constraints for the artists and their works to speak in the manner and form they desired.