Starting off this week, the new Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts presents the artworks of key figures of the expressionist movement.
The exhibition comes first as an introduction to expressionism. The actual term “abstract expressionism” was used for the first time by an art critic in New York in 1946. Going through the red and black canvases of Rothko, Gottlieb, and Motherwell, you can sense the underling themes of war. In fact, the movement was born with this common experience of war among artists around the world, in the aftermath of the two World Wars and the Great Depression, but also depicting the Spanish Civil War.
Although Kandinsky was the pioneer of the movement, his works are not shown and his name is only once briefly mentioned. Instead there are works of Pollock, Rothko, Still, de Kooning, Newman, Kline, Smith, Guston and Gorky, a long list that confuses more than it actually illustrates the movement. The paintings, sculptures, and photographs shown lead to an overloaded exhibition.
Willem De Kooning, Woman II (1952) Oil on canvas
However, the highlights of this exhibit is without doubt Pollock’s and Rothko’s works. Discovering or perhaps rediscovering Pollock’s famous Blue Poles and other of his works in surprising formats, is always an amazement. The darkness of these masterpieces remind us of the dramatic death of both Pollock and Rothko, who were depressed, alcoholic and suicidal. Clyfford Still’s work with layering, color and illusion is particularly fascinating.
The exhibition, organised with the collaboration of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, is overall a must see this year.
Clyfford Still, PH-950 (1950) Oil on canvas.
Abstract Expressionism is at the Royal Academy,
24 September 2016 – 2 January 2017.