Contemporary Artists on Abstract Expressionist New York

Artist Amy Sillman as she begins her talk in the Abstract Expressionist New York exhibition.

When we visit MoMA we expect to see works of art made by artists, but seldom do we hear firsthand from the artists themselves about the works on display—while we stand directly in front of them! The recently concluded series Abstract Expressionist New York: Artist-Led Gallery Talks offered MoMA visitors this unique opportunity.

MoMA has a long-standing history of cultivating relationships with artists who are represented in the Museum’s collection, and a tradition of celebrating those artists’ voices. To honor the educational mission upon which MoMA was founded in 1929, and in a continual effort to remain vital and engaged with the present, MoMA has always gone to great efforts to underscore the importance of both modern and contemporary art and the artists who create it. On the occasion of the exhibition Abstract Expressionist New York, which traced the auspicious beginnings of Abstract Expressionism in the 1940s through its seasoned maturity in the 1960s, we invited contemporary artists to lead the public on tours through the exhibition. Sharing their personal and artistic perspectives on works by Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Lee Krasner, Willem de Kooning, David Smith, Joan Mitchell, Mark Rothko, and others, contemporary artists George Condo, Peter Halley, Josh Smith, Richard Tuttle, Amy Sillman, and Ellen Gallagher led tours through the exhibition from October 2010 to March 2011. Given only the guideline of time and an open invitation to devise their own approach to the talk, each contemporary artist made their own unique contribution, and each illuminated a different aspect of the exhibition, the artists, and the works on view.

Artist George Condo standing in front of Jackson Pollock's 1943 painting She Wolf

The earnestness and vitality that characterized the work of the Abstract Expressionist artists during the postwar period in New York marked a radical departure from the art that had been created before this time. Abstract Expressionist New York was also the first of its kind, both in scope and breadth, and it captured the profound achievement of a generation of artists who contributed to making New York City the center of the international art world during the 1950s. In an effort to celebrate this important moment in art history—one that was so significant in MoMA’s own history—this program allowed members of the public to hear firsthand from contemporary artists about how the Abstract Expressionists continue to influence the thinking, processes, and practices of artists today.

From these informal but intimate tours we get the opportunity to hear directly from the artists as they candidly share their personal point of view. We invite you to watch a short video highlighting a selection of these contemporary artists’ impressions from this exhibition.