Skip Navigation

Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976

May 4, 2008 - September 21, 2008


In Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976, the first major U.S. exhibition in 20 years to rethink Abstract Expressionism and the movements that followed, over fifty key works by 32 artists - among them Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Mark Rothko - will be viewed from the perspectives of influential, rival art critics Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, the artists, and popular culture.

Beginning in the 1940s, artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning created paintings and sculptures that catapulted American art onto the international stage, making New York City the successor to prewar Paris as the mecca for the avant-garde. Two rival art critics played a crucial role in the reception of the new American painting and sculpture: the highly influential New York intellectuals Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg. In the pages of magazines as diverse as Partisan Review, The Nation, ARTnews, and Vogue, these critics wrote incisively about seismic changes in the art world, often disagreeing with each other vehemently.

By interpreting the significance of the most daring art of their times, their advocacy propelled the artists and their art to the forefront of the public imagination. By the late 1950s, Pollock and de Kooning were household names and Abstract Expressionism was widely known throughout America and internationally.

In a period fueled by Cold War politics, the mushrooming of mass media, and surging consumerism, 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. The artists they championed included Pollock and de Kooning, Hans Hofmann and Arshile Gorky, Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell, Jules Olitski and Philip Guston, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. Action/Abstraction presents major paintings and sculptures from this decisive era, surveying the first generation of Abstract Expressionists as well as later artists who built on their achievements. Context rooms in the exhibition feature documents - including personal correspondence, magazines and newspapers, film and television clips, and photographs - that shed light on the cultural and social climate of the 1940s to the 1970s. The works in the exhibition, arranged in thematic sections, are grouped to evoke the rivalry of Greenberg and Rosenberg and the epic transformation of American art in the postwar period.


Willem de Kooning
Jackson Pollock
Lee Bontecou
Anthony Caro
Hebert Ferber
Helen Frankenthaler
Arshile Gorky
Philip Guston
David Hare
Grace Hartigan
Hans Hofmann
Jasper Johns
Allan Kaprow/Martha Rosler
Lee Krasner
Ibram Lassaw
Norman Lewis

Seymour Lipton
Morris Louis
Joan Mitchell
Barnett Newman
Kenneth Noland
Claes Oldenburg
Jules Olitski
Ad Reinhardt
Mark Rothko
Peter Saul
David Smith
Saul Steinberg
Frank Stella
Clyfford Still
Anne Truitt

"Exceedingly handsome...
a tour de force..."

The New York Times

Exhibition Catalogue
Exhibition Products
Exhibition Checklist (PDF)
Gallery Guide for Families (PDF)
Audio Guide ($4) - listen
Intro by Director Joan Rosenbaum

Audio: Criticism Then & Now
Irving Sandler and Eleanor
Heartney in conversation
listen / download (14mb)

Audio: Curator Norman L. Kleeblatt discusses the exhibition on The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC

Audio: Identity, Engagement, Judgment: Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, Then and Now Panel, May 15, 2008 | more info
David Joselit , Linda Norden
Kenneth E. Silver, Catherine
Soussloff, moderated by
Michael Brenson
listen / download (147 mb)

Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976 has been organized by The Jewish Museum, New York in collaboration with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo and the Saint Louis Art Museum.

Leadership support has been provided by the Weissman Family Foundation, The National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency, and the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation.

The exhibition is sponsored by the Jerome L. Greene Foundation.

Additional funding has been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts; the Schaina and Josephina Lurje Memorial Foundation; The Donald and Barbara Zucker Foundation; the Roy J. Zuckerberg Family Foundation; the New York Council for the Humanities; Ruth Albert; the Laurie Kayden Foundation; the Robert Lehman Foundation; Lief D. Rosenblatt; Barry and Teri Volpert; and the Alfred J. Grunebaum Memorial Fund.

The catalogue is supported by the Dorot Foundation publications endowment.

The audio guide is made possible by bloomberg
This tour component is produced by The Jewish Museum in association with Acoustiguide.

Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Plan Your Visit

The Jewish Museum - 5th Avenue
1109 5th Ave at 92nd St
New York NY 10128