As many now well know, this past weekend saw the opening of the only international stop for MoMA's "Abstract Expressionist New York" at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. The show is scaled down from the original—about 75% the size of the central MoMA outing "The Big Picture," I was told, and also lacking the collary exhibitions "Rock Paper Scissors" and "Ideas Not Theories" (though some materials from these latter two shows were integrated into the AGO display).
Last Wednesday as the exhibition was previewing to the press, I got to speak with Ann Temkin, MoMA's chief curator of painting and sculpture, about the show. The resulting condensed Q&A is out in today's National Post. An excerpt:
Q Are Abstract Expressionists really all that special? Abstraction has existed for centuries in indigenous and Islamic art, and expressiveness is something we look for in most art.
A One of the things you're bringing out is that Eurocentric attitudes are what dictate us thinking of this movement as unique. There are links the artists would've very much acknowledged to non-Western or ancient art that had this same kind of ambition to express the soul. So you could say one of the things that's important about this movement is, in fact, its non-uniqueness in a global sense. What these artists were aiming for was something that, for what would've been thought of as "primitive" peoples at that time, would've gone without saying—that art expressed their deepest, profoundest beliefs, fears and wishes. What these artists were doing was marrying that to a European artistic tradition, which was something on canvas that got stretched and put on a wall.
Q So is a better term needed than "Abstract Expressionist"? The direct translation ain't helpful.
A These artists struggled quite a bit with that question and they all had their various, equally inadequate suggestions. Our acoustiguide in New York opened with clips of artists saying things along these lines—"Well, I'm not an Abstract Expressionist!" "My paintings aren't Abstract Expressionist." "What is Abstract Expressionist? It means nothing to me."—just to set the stage that it's not a very useful term.
Later on we discuss Rothko's fear of fame, how to look at an Ab Ex painting and more. To read the rest, I encourage seeking out a print copy of the Post, as there's a reproduction of a really nice Joan Mitchell painting in the spread. For a text-only version today, you can also check out this link over at the Post.
(Image of Joan Mitchell's Ladybug 1957 from the AGO and MoMA)
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Posted by Leah Sandals at 10:09 AM