• Monica Herrera

Epic Abstraction: Pollock to Herrera

Exhibiting at the Metropolitan Museum, Epic Abstraction: Pollock to Herrera shows more than 50 art pieces that represent the movement of Abstract Expressionism of the 1940s in New York City. Behind the heavy background of the dark days of the time, the disarray after World War II, a great depression that inevitably followed and historic damage left by the war, a new movement was born. Under this scenario, many of these artists discovered a new way to express their art and work. It represented a clear answer to the destruction and sadness felt and the need to convey their new reality. Long gone were for many artists the traditional ways of painting or sculpting. The old forms and easel painting were no longer the method to demonstrate the humanity of the time. A new form of art was the response to their need to express. Abstract forms, paints, elements, shapes, and colors were for these artists the best approach to represent the reality and the message they wanted to communicate.

Curated by Randall Griffey, Curator in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Met, in Epic Abstraction, the visitor is exposed to many of the artists that marked and are symbols of the Abstract Expressionism style and movement - what was called the ‘New York School’. With large formats, New York base painters and sculptors of the time tried to explore different aesthetics and elements, believing that the size influenced the meaning of the message.

Drawing inspiration from the European surrealism along with other contemporary movements, the New York School - an informal group of poets, painters, musicians, dancers, sculptures and artists mostly working from New York during that historic time - created art with distinctive styles that had in common their abstract expressionists intention and inspiration. A movement that has inspired other artists but also has gathered criticism over time and is subject to study for all art lovers and admirers.

Some of the high points of the exhibition are Jackson Pollock’s paintings and some of his experimental sketchbooks from the 1930s and 1940s. Among the paintings exhibited are “Pasiphaë” (1943), one of Pollock’s best paintings, as well as his classic “drip” work Autumn Rhythm (1950). Another highlight is the presentation of some of Mark Rothko’s best work,i ncluding his piece No. 3 (1953). Large-scale paintings and sculptures are part of the exhibit, showcasing the thinking of the time, where abstract art in a grand scale allowed the artists to explore a variety of lines, textures, time, and subjects in a large context.


Epic Abstraction, Pollock to Herrera, Installation View. Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Epic Abstraction provides a reminder of how from the worst in humanity and some of the most difficult times in a lifetime gave way to a novel form of art. How under challenging times, creation and innovation are still possible and achievable. Reinventing the now can form an alternative future. For these artists, their artwork remains their selected method to handle the challenges with expressions, forms, styles, and diversity of interpretation of reality as well as time in present and history - now a work to revise and discuss. History shows art and creators have felt the need to express their emotions representing a period of time, showing their understanding of the circumstances and in that process there is usually a necessity to reevaluate traditions and current methods, a need that is almost correlated to the vision and understanding of the world and one’s truth. Art has been over time a form of creation and expression. It has also been a form of communication to convey a message from the artist point of view, mind, or heart to an outcome that allows the viewer to interpret it under their own circumstances and state of mind.

For many critics, Epic Abstraction falls short on their representation of the movement, of the time and the diversity of artists that the movement inspired. As well as the limitation of showing only the museum’s permanent collection, limiting the scope of what was intended. For many the exhibit is revisionism of what is considered abstractions creating a disconnection between the intention and the final result.

One of the most appreciated accomplishments of Epic Abstraction is the inclusion of the achievements of women. Among some of the representations are Western Dreams by Helen Frankenthaler. Other women artists included in the exhibit are; Anne Truitt, Carmen Herrera, Alma Thomas, and others. Grand sculptures and large paintings like La Vie en Rose (1979) by Joan Mitchell, and minimalistic colors and impressive combinations are part of this interesting exhibit. Other artists included are Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Mangold, Alejandro Puente as a way to recognize new artists in the movement.

As stated in The Met’s press room in its website about Epic Abstraction: “The Met’s great holdings of post-war art include some of the most celebrated examples of Abstract Expressionism. This exhibition is an important reinterpretation of a core area of the Museum’s collection as it expands beyond the familiar to include fresh and perhaps surprising perspectives of artists who have adopted, adapted, and even critiqued the precedents established by the well-known New York school,” said Max Hollein, Director of the Museum. “These monumental works also offer a powerful—even mesmerizing—experience.”

The art pieces are part of The Met collection as well as some selection of loans, gifts, and new acquisitions. Epic Abstraction is closed, but you can visit the museum and appreciate some of the art pieces exhibit in galleries 917-925. The Met additionally provides audio from the curators with details of the exhibit on the website.

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