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The Shape of Freedom

International Abstraction after 1945
#AbstraktionBarberini
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The role of the artist, of course, has always been that of image-maker. Different times require different images. (...) To my mind certain so-called abstraction is not abstraction at all. On the contrary, it is the realism of our time.

Adolph Gottlieb in the magazine "The Tiger’s Eye", 1947
 Arshile Gorky was born in Armenia and fled to the United States to escape the Armenian genocide. His poetic, expressive paintings stand at the threshold between Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. Gorky was one of the central figures of the New York art scene in the 1940s.
 Arshile Gorky was born in Armenia and fled to the United States to escape the Armenian genocide. His poetic, expressive paintings stand at the threshold between Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. Gorky was one of the central figures of the New York art scene in the 1940s.
A New Avant-Garde
Abstract Expressionism
First chapter
 The Jewish painter Hedda Sterne was born in Bucharest in 1910. In 1941, she fled to America and received American citizenship in 1944. Her series  N.Y.  expresses her fascination with her adopted homeland.

The Jewish painter Hedda Sterne was born in Bucharest in 1910. In 1941, she fled to America and received American citizenship in 1944. Her series N.Y. expresses her fascination with her adopted homeland.

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Hedda Sterne: N.Y. #7, ca. 1955
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To us art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take the risks. (...) It is our function as artists to make the spectator see the world our way — not his way.

Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Adolph Gottlieb in the "New York Times", 1943
 The title of Mary Abbott’s painting  Imrie  alludes to her friendship with the economist Imrie de Vegh. The expressive brushwork of her Action Painting reveals the influence of Willem de Kooning. Along with Perle Fine and Joan Mitchell, Mary Abbott was one of the few women accepted into the “8th Street Club,” a discussion group dominated by the Abstract Expressionists.
 The title of Mary Abbott’s painting  Imrie  alludes to her friendship with the economist Imrie de Vegh. The expressive brushwork of her Action Painting reveals the influence of Willem de Kooning. Along with Perle Fine and Joan Mitchell, Mary Abbott was one of the few women accepted into the “8th Street Club,” a discussion group dominated by the Abstract Expressionists.
Gestures of Freedom
American Action Painting
Second chapter

At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act. (...) What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event. The painter no longer approached his easel with an image in his mind; he went up to it with material in his hand to do something to that other piece of material in front of him. The image would be the result of an encounter.

Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters,” in: Art News, 1952
 Willem de Kooning is considered one of the leading figures of American Action Painting. Like many artists of the New York School, he maintained a studio in Downtown Manhattan.

Willem de Kooning is considered one of the leading figures of American Action Painting. Like many artists of the New York School, he maintained a studio in Downtown Manhattan.

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 Hofmann’s influence on an entire generation of artists, however, extended beyond his activity as a teacher: the term “Abstract Expressionism” was first coined in a review of his art in 1946. Shortly thereafter, it became widespread as a general term for American postwar abstraction.

Hofmann’s influence on an entire generation of artists, however, extended beyond his activity as a teacher: the term “Abstract Expressionism” was first coined in a review of his art in 1946. Shortly thereafter, it became widespread as a general term for American postwar abstraction.

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Hans Hofmann: First Sprouting, 1960/61
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Unbounded Pictorial Space
All-Over Effects
Third chapter
 Today, Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings are considered the epitome of American Action Painting.

Today, Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings are considered the epitome of American Action Painting.

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Jackson Pollock: Enchanted Forest, 1947
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 Ukrainian-born painter Janet Sobel was one of the many women pioneers of American abstraction promoted by Peggy Guggenheim in the 1940s. It is also highly likely that her works influenced the development of Pollock’s drip paintings.

Ukrainian-born painter Janet Sobel was one of the many women pioneers of American abstraction promoted by Peggy Guggenheim in the 1940s. It is also highly likely that her works influenced the development of Pollock’s drip paintings.

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 Lee Krasner was long known primarily as the wife of Jackson Pollock, for whose work she tirelessly advocated. Not until the 1970s did her own art begin to be recognized for its profound influence on Abstract Expressionism.

Lee Krasner was long known primarily as the wife of Jackson Pollock, for whose work she tirelessly advocated. Not until the 1970s did her own art begin to be recognized for its profound influence on Abstract Expressionism.

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Lee Krasner: Bald Eagle, 1955
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When one starts using the unconscious as a source to take off, it doesn’t mean that it’s an unconscious painting because the conscious¬ness is there. The artist is there. You’re aware. The point at which you stop or pick up or make your next move is a conscious move.

Lee Krasner, 1967
 This work is a characteristic example of the Color Field Painting of Mark Rothko. Paintings like this one from his most famous series show soft-edged, monochromatic blocks of color positioned above one another. They seem to float within a colored space, at times even blurring into each other.
 This work is a characteristic example of the Color Field Painting of Mark Rothko. Paintings like this one from his most famous series show soft-edged, monochromatic blocks of color positioned above one another. They seem to float within a colored space, at times even blurring into each other.
Immersive Images
Color Field Painting
Fourth chapter

I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions — tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on — and the fact that a lot of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions. (...) The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them.

Mark Rothko, 1956
 After 1947, Clyfford Still no longer gave his works associative titles. With his monumental formats, he sought to create visual fields of energy that would inspire viewers to search for meaning beyond objective references.

After 1947, Clyfford Still no longer gave his works associative titles. With his monumental formats, he sought to create visual fields of energy that would inspire viewers to search for meaning beyond objective references.

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Clyfford Still: PH-847, 1953
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 In his  Burst  series, begun in 1957, Adolph Gottlieb repeatedly varied a single pictorial scheme. In works like  Burst 1973 , the glowing red disk evokes the life-giving energy of the sun, while the reduced brushwork on largely monochromatic fields alludes to East Asian ink paintings.

In his Burst series, begun in 1957, Adolph Gottlieb repeatedly varied a single pictorial scheme. In works like Burst 1973, the glowing red disk evokes the life-giving energy of the sun, while the reduced brushwork on largely monochromatic fields alludes to East Asian ink paintings.

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 Like Jackson Pollock, Helen Frankenthaler applied her soak-stain technique to canvases that were spread out on the floor, unstretched and unprimed.
 Like Jackson Pollock, Helen Frankenthaler applied her soak-stain technique to canvases that were spread out on the floor, unstretched and unprimed.
Flowing Color
The Staining Process
Fifth chapter
 Both real and imagined impressions of nature formed the point of departure for Helen Frankenthaler’s  Beach Scene .

Both real and imagined impressions of nature formed the point of departure for Helen Frankenthaler’s Beach Scene.

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Helen Frankenthaler: Beach Scene, 1961
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Any successful picture — an abstract work or a landscape — has a place and rightness and an ability to last and grow. It is not merely a matter of painting a tree, but of making a picture that works.

Helen Frankenthaler, 1988
 The painting  Saf Heh  belongs to a group of compositions in which Morris Louis allowed the paint to flow in two directions. Like most of his paintings, this one, too, was titled only after his death. “Saf” is the last, and “Heh” the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

The painting Saf Heh belongs to a group of compositions in which Morris Louis allowed the paint to flow in two directions. Like most of his paintings, this one, too, was titled only after his death. “Saf” is the last, and “Heh” the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

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Morris Louis: Saf Heh, 1959
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 A sunlit landscape, rippling water, flickering light: Joan Mitchell’s works were inspired by nature, and in particular by the countryside around the French village of Vétheuil, where she settled permanently in 1969. Claude Monet had also lived and worked there for a number of years.
 A sunlit landscape, rippling water, flickering light: Joan Mitchell’s works were inspired by nature, and in particular by the countryside around the French village of Vétheuil, where she settled permanently in 1969. Claude Monet had also lived and worked there for a number of years.
In the Footsteps of Monet
Abstract Impressionism
Sixth chapter
 Artists and critics were fascinated by Monet’s seeming anticipation of the very thing for which they, too, were striving: a new relationship between the viewer and the work, established through scale, flatness, and compositional strategy.

Artists and critics were fascinated by Monet’s seeming anticipation of the very thing for which they, too, were striving: a new relationship between the viewer and the work, established through scale, flatness, and compositional strategy.

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 Sam Francis’s large-scale abstractions show a luminous play of pulsating color fields, spatters, and splotches. Their calligraphic character bears witness to East Asian influences.

Sam Francis’s large-scale abstractions show a luminous play of pulsating color fields, spatters, and splotches. Their calligraphic character bears witness to East Asian influences.

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 In 1958, both Joan Mitchell and Sam Francis were represented in the London exhibition  Abstract Impressionism . The works of both artists are viewed as the artistic legacy of Impressionism.

In 1958, both Joan Mitchell and Sam Francis were represented in the London exhibition Abstract Impressionism. The works of both artists are viewed as the artistic legacy of Impressionism.

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I paint from landscapes of the memory I carry with me. I prefer to leave nature to itself. I do not intend to improve it. I could never mirror it. I love most of all what it leaves inside me.

Joan Mitchell
 For over 25 years, Jean-Paul Riopelle was romantically involved with Joan Mitchell, whom he met through their mutual friend Sam Francis. Like Mitchell, he too viewed his works as abstracted landscapes and was fascinated by the use of color in French Impressionism.
 For over 25 years, Jean-Paul Riopelle was romantically involved with Joan Mitchell, whom he met through their mutual friend Sam Francis. Like Mitchell, he too viewed his works as abstracted landscapes and was fascinated by the use of color in French Impressionism.
Dynamic Processes
The Painting of Art Informel
Seventh chapter
 The self-taught artist Wols painted not only with a brush, but also with brush handles, forks, knives, fingers, and paint tubes. As a pioneer of Art Informel, his work was defined by improvisation and a completely free handling of colors and forms. Like the American Action Painters, Wols embraced the spontaneous artistic gesture.

The self-taught artist Wols painted not only with a brush, but also with brush handles, forks, knives, fingers, and paint tubes. As a pioneer of Art Informel, his work was defined by improvisation and a completely free handling of colors and forms. Like the American Action Painters, Wols embraced the spontaneous artistic gesture.

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Wols (Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze): Composition Champigny, ca. 1951
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Jean Dubuffet: The Archer, 1953
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Many people can’t imagine painting as the expression of a human being who thinks differently. If they could understand ‘the Chinese’ of our pictures, they would read in them the sadness of every day and sense their liberation and renunciation. (...) They don’t realize that the act of painting is the sum total of our hopes. They don’t understand that we must make extreme, unknown revelations through the distinct lines of our paintings.

Emilio Vedova, 1948
 Simon Hantaï was born in Hungary in 1922 and, like Judit Reigl, was one of the many Eastern European immigrants in Paris. He too had studied in Budapest and had discovered the art of Jackson Pollock at the Venice Biennale in 1948. He was close friends with the American artist Joan Mitchell. With his impulsive visual language, he became an important proponent of European Action Painting.
 Simon Hantaï was born in Hungary in 1922 and, like Judit Reigl, was one of the many Eastern European immigrants in Paris. He too had studied in Budapest and had discovered the art of Jackson Pollock at the Venice Biennale in 1948. He was close friends with the American artist Joan Mitchell. With his impulsive visual language, he became an important proponent of European Action Painting.
Painting as Performance
European Action Painting
Eighth chapter
 Like Jackson Pollock, Georges Mathieu dripped fluid paint onto the canvas. Many of his monumental works were created within only a few minutes as performances in front of a large audience, making him an important precursor to Happenings.

Like Jackson Pollock, Georges Mathieu dripped fluid paint onto the canvas. Many of his monumental works were created within only a few minutes as performances in front of a large audience, making him an important precursor to Happenings.

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Georges Mathieu: Triumphal Return of Go Daïgo to Kyoto, 1957
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 Judit Reigl first encountered Abstract Expressionism in 1948 at the pavilion organized by Peggy Guggenheim at the Venice Biennale. From then on, Reigl stayed informed — primarily through magazines — about the works of the New York School, which especially interested her.

Judit Reigl first encountered Abstract Expressionism in 1948 at the pavilion organized by Peggy Guggenheim at the Venice Biennale. From then on, Reigl stayed informed — primarily through magazines — about the works of the New York School, which especially interested her.

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Judit Reigl: Center of Dominance, 1958
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Joining the Avant-Garde
Postwar Abstraction in West Germany
Ninth chapter

The only ones who perhaps have an inkling of freedom, because it is in their blood, because they are inveterate individualists and rebellious by nature — the artists — continue to be laughed at, hostile and insulted, as if the Nazis were still at the helm, as if the Third Reich with its hatred of ‘degenerate art,’ with its mendacious, stuffy, and kitschy aesthetics had remained victorious beyond its downfall. (...) Painting! I am trying to paint, I have set my mind on becoming a good painter. Isn’t that madness, after all that has happened?

Winfred Gaul, 1945-1955
 In 1955, the painter Winfred Gaul joined “Gruppe 53,” an artists’ group that turned the city of Düsseldorf into a hub of Art Informel. The painting  Couleur et signification  (Color and Meaning) is closely related to both French Art Informel and American Action Painting. 

In 1955, the painter Winfred Gaul joined “Gruppe 53,” an artists’ group that turned the city of Düsseldorf into a hub of Art Informel. The painting Couleur et signification (Color and Meaning) is closely related to both French Art Informel and American Action Painting. 

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Winfred Gaul: Couleur et signification 1, 1958
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 The painting  Giverny III/2  from the series  Giverny  is one of Karl Otto Götz’s late works. The title alludes to the glowing colors and flat compositions of the garden paintings of Claude Monet.

The painting Giverny III/2 from the series Giverny is one of Karl Otto Götz’s late works. The title alludes to the glowing colors and flat compositions of the garden paintings of Claude Monet.

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Karl Otto Götz: Giverny III/2, 1987
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 In 1956, a selection of  Scheibenbilder  (disc paintings) by Ernst Wilhelm Nay were shown at the Venice Biennale, garnering him international fame as an artist. 

In 1956, a selection of Scheibenbilder (disc paintings) by Ernst Wilhelm Nay were shown at the Venice Biennale, garnering him international fame as an artist. 

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 Already in the 1950s and 60s, a number of artists turned away from the impulsive gestures of Art Informel. One of them was Rupprecht Geiger, who helped found the artists’ group Zen 49, an important breeding ground for German postwar abstraction. The group’s focus was on meditative immersion in abstract visual spaces.
 Already in the 1950s and 60s, a number of artists turned away from the impulsive gestures of Art Informel. One of them was Rupprecht Geiger, who helped found the artists’ group Zen 49, an important breeding ground for German postwar abstraction. The group’s focus was on meditative immersion in abstract visual spaces.
Color or Form?
Modes of Abstraction
Tenth chapter
 Like Rupprecht Geiger, Otto Piene also distanced himself from the gestural expressiveness of Art Informel. In 1958, he cofounded the Düsseldorf artists’ group ZERO together with Heinz Mack. With their focus on the optical phenomenon of light, the painters propagated the idea of a “zero hour” as a radical new beginning for painting.

Like Rupprecht Geiger, Otto Piene also distanced himself from the gestural expressiveness of Art Informel. In 1958, he cofounded the Düsseldorf artists’ group ZERO together with Heinz Mack. With their focus on the optical phenomenon of light, the painters propagated the idea of a “zero hour” as a radical new beginning for painting.

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Otto Piene: The Sun Is Burning, 1966
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