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Albright-Knox Art Gallery to Open Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976
Jackson Pollock, Convergence, 1952, oil on canvas. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1956. © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

BUFFALO, NY.- The Albright-Knox Art Gallery will present the nationally touring exhibition Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976, from February 13 to June 10, 2009. The first major U.S. exhibition in twenty years to reconsider Abstract Expressionism and the art movements that followed, it will feature more than fifty key works by thirty-one artists presented thematically and complemented by a rich selection of contextual materials. Important works from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s Collection will be featured prominently in this exhibition of top examples of Abstract Expressionist painting and sculpture from throughout the United States. This nationally touring exhibition, organized by The Jewish Museum, New York, in collaboration with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Saint Louis Art Museum, is unique in presenting Abstract Expressionism from the perspective of two influential art critics, Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, and within the broader cultural and social context of postwar American prosperity and political uncertainty, which will be explored in context rooms containing letters, media, and photographs documenting the period.

Known worldwide for its collection of modern and contemporary art, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery developed a national reputation for its bold acquisitions of this new art in the 1950s. At that time, Museum director Gordon M. Smith and patron Seymour H. Knox, Jr., together secured Abstract Expressionism’s place in Buffalo’s history through their prescient collecting of works by such artists as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Helen Frankenthaler, and many others, long before the importance of these artists was widely recognized. The Albright Art Gallery (as it was then known) was hailed in a 1957 ARTnews article entitled “The Brave Buffalo” for its commitment to collecting the work of these groundbreaking artists “not after they have made it, but while they are making it.” The legacy of Abstract Expressionism, arguably America’s most significant contribution to modern art history, was established in Buffalo with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s Collection of this new art.

Key works from this remarkable period of collecting at the Gallery are featured in the exhibition, including Arshile Gorky’s The Liver is the Cock’s Comb, 1944, and two spectacular works that open the show: Jackson Pollock’s Convergence, 1952; and Willem de Kooning’s Gotham News, 1955. This still represents the most intense period of growth for the Gallery’s Collection, and has resulted in a legacy of Abstract Expressionism in Buffalo that not only brings the area international attention, but also makes the presentation of this exhibition at the Albright-Knox especially meaningful. Additional works from the Gallery’s stellar Permanent Collection by Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Hans Hofmann, David Smith, and others will amplify the exhibition in Buffalo.

Albright-Knox Art Gallery Director Louis Grachos stated, “This outstanding exhibition showcases the Gallery’s celebrated collection of Abstract Expressionism and the extraordinary period in our history when Seymour H. Knox, Jr. and former Gallery Director Gordon M. Smith amassed one of the foremost collections of Abstract Expressionist art in the world. These works put Buffalo on the map as one of the first American museums to actively acquire the work of these avant-garde artists of the 1950s, a tradition and mission we still uphold as we continue to collect the cutting-edge art of today.”

Abstract Expressionism grew out of the New York art scene in the 1940s, when artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and David Smith created paintings and sculptures that catapulted American art onto the international stage, and when New York City replaced prewar Paris as the world center for avant-garde art. Two rival art critics, Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, played a crucial role in the reception of the new American painting and sculpture. In the pages of magazines as diverse as Partisan Review, The Nation, ARTnews, and Vogue, these critics articulated their views on the significance of the most daring art of their times, often vehemently disagreeing with each other. Rosenberg promoted action – his idea of the creative, physical act of making art – against Greenberg’s belief in abstraction and the formal purity of the art object. In large part, it was the rivalry and advocacy of these two critics that propelled Abstract Expressionism to the forefront of the public imagination. In 1949, when Life magazine – then the nation’s most popular magazine and a barometer of mainstream taste – featured an article on Jackson Pollock and his work, it was clear that this new art was becoming widely known throughout America.

Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940–1976 includes major paintings and sculptures from this decisive era in American art, surveying the first generation of Abstract Expressionists as well as later artists who built on their achievements. The show brings together important works from major institutions and private collections throughout the United States, with one quarter of the exhibition comprising key works from the Collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. The exhibition is arranged in thematic sections, grouped to evoke the rivalry of Greenberg and Rosenberg and the epic transformation of American art in the postwar period. In addition to the artworks, multimedia context rooms, with such documents as personal correspondence, magazines and newspapers, film and television clips, and photographs, will shed light on the cultural and social climate in America from the 1940s through the 1970s. The exhibition will also include Allan Kaprow’s influential, participatory environment of 1962, Words, which has been specially reinvented for this exhibition by contemporary artist Martha Rosler.

Action/Abstraction was conceived and organized by Norman L. Kleeblatt, Susan & Elihu Rose Chief Curator of The Jewish Museum, with curatorial consultants Maurice Berger, Senior Fellow at the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, New School University and Curator of the Center for Art and Visual Culture, University of Maryland; Douglas Dreishpoon, Chief Curator of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery; and Charlotte Eyerman, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Saint Louis Art Museum. Maurice Berger curated the context rooms for the exhibition. The exhibition is accompanied by a 344-page catalogue, co-published by The Jewish Museum and Yale University Press, edited by Norman L. Kleeblatt with essays by Kleeblatt, Dreishpoon, and Eyerman as well as by specialists of the period – Debra Bricker Balken, Morris Dickstein, Mark Godfrey, Caroline A. Jones, and Irving Sandler.

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