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.