In the aftermath of World War II, a host of American artists with greatly varying styles and approaches were united by a belief in the power of abstract art to express personal convictions and profound human values. These artists, the Abstract Expressionists, were the first to push New York City to the forefront of modern art. Many of them sought to make the bodily gestures involved in the painting process visible in the resulting work. Jackson Pollock created all-over compositions by dipping sticks and hardened brushes into paint and moving his body above and around an unstretched canvas spread on the floor, allowing the paint to drip in skeins, splatters, and puddles that traced his movements. Willem de Kooning, on the other hand, maintained references to the surrounding world. He took forms from life—like the human figure—as points of departure for abstraction and experimentation. Hedda Sterne, meanwhile, used spray paint to suggest the motion and speed of the New York highways that captivated her throughout the 1950s.
Organized by Cara Manes, Associate Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture, with Ana Torok, Curatorial Assistant, and Danielle Johnson, former Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints.