Breaking It Up


"At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act - rather than a space in which to reproduce, redesign, analyze or express an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event." - Harold Rosenberg in The American Action Painters
Jackson Pollock, Cathedral, 1947.











Historic Context
Great Depression begins
Hitler's Nazi Party seizes power
New Deal begins - program of government spending to end the Great Depression
1936 - 1939
Spanish Civil War
German scientists bombard nucleus with protons, releasing enormous energy & providing decisive proof of Einstein's theory related to E=mc2
Germany invades Poland, England & France declare war
1939 - 1945
WWII - the largest and deadliest war in history with over 73 million deaths (22 to 25 milion military casualties)
Japanese attack Pearl Harbor
U.S. leafletting
US bombs Hiroshima and Nagasaki - first use of the atomic bomb
Founding of the United Nations
Attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.











An American B-29 bomber named Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, in one of the final chapters of World War II. It killed an estimated 140,000 by December that year.
Hiroshima after atomic bombing

Hiroshima Museum of Science and Industry, 1945











On August 9, the port city of Nagasaki was also bombed, killing an estimated 70,000 people. Japan surrendered six days later -- on August 15, 1945 -- [arguably] bringing the war to a close.


Nuclear bombing of Nagasaki,  August 9, 1945.
Nagasaki before and after nuclear bombing, 1945.












Lee Miller, Buchenwald, April 1945. 
Dresden after allied bombing, 1945.











After WWII

United States
  • Left in ruins - few resources to rebuild or get "back to life"
  • Housing and construction boom nurtered by GI returns
  • Many countries remained politically divided
  • Country invigorated by new found strength
  • Numerous avant-garde artists had immigrated to the U.S.
  • Sense of artistic community blossoms in NY
The Kissing Sailor, or
"The Selective Blindness of Rape Culture"
Alfred Eisenstaedt, V.J. Day, 1945.











Post WWII Suburban Ranch Home











Spring 1945 "A Problem for Critics"
exhibition at the Art of This Century Gallery
Included works by: Arshile Gorky, Joan Miro, Adolph Gottleib and Mark Rothko, Hans Hofmann, and Jackson Pollock
Critics met Peggy Guggenheim's challenge by naming the new movement "Abstract Expressionism"
Jackson Pollock, Moon Woman, 1942.






















Abstract Expressionism = term used to describe a wide variety of work produced in New York
between 1940 and 1960
The name acknowledges, two important strains of modern art:
Abstraction = emphasized a non-representational, formalist approach
Expressionism = sought emotional responses from both the artist and the viewer
Lee Krasner, Cornucopia, 1958.











The Irascibles

The Irascibles" from 1950, published in Life Magazine, January 15, 1951.


From left to right seated:  Theodoros Stamos, Jimmy Ernst, Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, James Brooks, Mark Rothko;
Standing:  Richard Pousette-Dart, William Baziotes, Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Ad Reinhardt, Hedda Sterne, Clyfford Still, Robert Motherwell, Bradley Walker Tomlin











Twilight Sounds

Grace Hartigan, Autumn Harvest, 1959.
Norman Lewis, Twilight Sounds, 1947.











no 2

Characteristics of the New York School:

  • Interest in Surrealist automatist techniques
  • Influenced by the Mexican muralists
  • "Modern Man" = notion that man is fundamentally irrational and driven by unknowable forces from within and without
  • Participated in the Federal Art Project
  • Insisted on the individual worth of each of their expressions
Clyfford Still, 1947-R, No. 2, 1947.




















Going West
Thomas Hart Benton, Palisades, from the series American Historical Epic. 1919 - 1924.

Jackson Pollock, Going West, c. 1934 - 1935.











"The most powerful painter in contemporary America and the only one who promises to be a major one is a Gothic, morbid, and extreme disciple of Picasso's Cubism and Miró's post-Cubism, tinctured also with Kandinsky and surrealist inspiration. His name is Jackson Pollock." - Clement Greenberg in 1947


Life Magasin 8/8/1949

August 8, 1949 issue of Life Magazine










Moon Woman

Male and Female

Jackson Pollock, Moon Woman, 1942.
Jackson Pollock, Male and Female, c. 1942.









Pollock in front of blank canvas

Pollock standing in front of blank canvas for Mural












Jackson Pollock, Mural, 1943. 8' X 19'.


"Every so often, a painter has to destroy painting. Cezanne did it, Picasso did it with Cubism. Then Pollock did it.
He busted our idea of a picture all to hell. Then there could be new paintings again." - Willem De Kooning











Peggy Guggenheim with Jackson Pollock standing in front of Mural with her dogs, 1943.