August 20, 2014
Aug 26, 2011
09:42 AM

Art attack: what’s cool (and not-so-cool) about the AGO’s abstract expressionist exhibit

Jackson Pollock expressing this age with paint splatter (Image: Hans Namuth)

Jackson Pollock expressing this age with paint splatter (Image: Hans Namuth)

The AGO’s Abstract Expressionist New York exhibit is coming to an end on Sept. 4, so this is your last chance to soak up the splatter and spill of the abstract expressionist movement before the paintings return to their rightful home in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The exhibit’s got some big names: Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline — names which, if you care about art at all, you already either love or hate. Probably hate.

In honor of the exhibit’s passing, we’ve cobbled together a list of fun miscellanea: the coolest and uncoolest facts about abstract expressionism.

Cool: Mark Rothko dug Nietzsche. Okay, quick Rorschach test: look at Rothko’s No. 5/No. 22 and tell us what you see. If your answer was, “the painting that hung on Bert Cooper’s wall on AMC’s Mad Men,” you are just wrong, dead wrong! It, um… it looks nothing like that painting. If you said, “an expression of the Dionysian as proposed by Nietzsche,” you are absolutely right! Well, at least Rothko thought so: he wanted his paintings to tap into a forceful universal language (like music) that would reconnect mankind to nature. What does that mean, exactly? We’re not sure. Sweet-looking quadrilaterals though.

Uncool: Jackson Pollock’s fame might’ve been a ploy by the CIA. The AGO’s got a whole room of Pollock’s work on display, ranging from his infamously expensive “drip” work to his earlier, more figurative paintings spawned from a perceived desire to be the “American Picasso,” which might’ve worked out for him except for that whole bit where Picasso was a revolutionary genius and Pollock was a very dysfunctional alcoholic. Curious thing, though: despite the fact that President Truman declared his work “not art” (what is art to history’s only user of atomic weaponry, we’d like to know?), the CIA apparently worked hard to promote Pollock and other abstract expressionists, sending their art on international tours as a sort of Cold War foray into cultural imperialism. Disturbing, no?

Cool: Willem de Kooning’s paintings actually have figures and stuff. Like, we’re talking recognizable geometric shapes. No, but really: de Kooning’s considered a runner-up to Pollock in terms of fame and influence, but among the New York expressionists he was a man apart, continuously integrating Cubism and Surrealism into his work and drawing on classical artists for inspiration. His paintings of women are truly a fascinating nightmare to behold — somebody wounded this guy deep.

Uncool: The nonsensical, existentialist jibber-jabber floating around abstract expressionism. Quoted in big, bold font on the AGO’s “about abstract expressionism” page is Pollock, giving himself big-ups for his own dribbly “genius”: “It seems to me that the modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture. Each age finds its own techniques.” Yep, the squiggles are about telecommunication and nukes. And that, kids, is why Al Gore invented liberal arts programs: most English lit majors get burnt out on saying silly crap like that by their third year.

Abstract Expressionist New York: Masterpieces from the Museum of Modern Art, AGO, runs until Sept. 4

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