New York Cool: Painting and Sculpture from the NYU Art Collection

AUG 23RD - OCT 25TH, 2009

After 1955, a number of New York School artists moved away from a “hot,” gestural style to what art critic Irving Sandler dubbed the new “cool art” of the 1960s. The late 1950s and early ‘60s have often been viewed as a mere parenthesis between Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art and Minimalism. However, many key innovations surfaced during this in-between era. Some artists reinvigorated Abstract Expressionism by describing landscapes or figures with vigorous brushwork or poured paint. Others rejected the very idea of expressionism for a cooler realism or geometry.

New York Cool: Painting and Sculpture from the NYU Art Collection proposes a fresh vision of an eclectic time. The exhibition features more than 80 paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints drawn from the New York University Art Collection.

While this period witnessed tremendous creative ferment in the New York art scene, it has been largely overshadowed by the heroic accomplishments of Abstract Expressionists, such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. By the late 1940s, New York had clearly seized the leadership of the avant-garde, and most American artists were confident that their work mattered as much as, or more than, that of their European colleagues. The artists working in New York in the late 1940s and 1950s came to be known as the New York School. The new assurance encouraged New York School artists to take risks, to experiment, and to reject accepted styles—including those of their immediate predecessors. By 1965, two new movements—Pop and Minimalism—coalesced out of the ferment of the previous decade.

The power and clarity of both have tended to obscure the richness and complexity of the art that came before.

Some paintings and sculptures prefigure the major styles of the mid-1960s and later: a portrait by Alex Katz looks forward to Pop Art a target painting by Kenneth Noland to Minimalism; and an abstraction by Yayoi Kusama to Post-Minimalism.

“What we’re going to show is that most of the key innovations of the postmodern era actually emerged in this in-between period,” said Pepe Karmel, the exhibition’s curator. “You get the new diaristic collages of Robert Rauschenberg and the poem-paintings of Norman Bluhm and Frank O’Hara. You get the radical simplification of the grid in the work of Agnes Martin and Frank Stella. You get the anti-form randomness of Yayoi Kusama’s infinity nets. You get the sexual imagery of Louise Bourgeois and the hidden religious symbolism of Louise Nevelson."

“Everyone thinks these were the years when Abstract Expressionism was sinking into senility,” Karmel added. “Actually, it was a period when a thousand new ideas were being born. Everything that comes afterwards – in the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s – is already there in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.”

This exhibition is sponsored by: SunTrust Bank Foundation, Barker Welfare Foundation, and Brewer Broadcasting.

The exhibition is organized by the Grey Art Gallery, New York University, and curated by Pepe Karmel. It is made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin M. Rosen, and the Abby Weed Grey Trust.

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