Abstract Expressionist New York at MOMA

The Museum of Modern Art has put its usual fourth floor miscellany of the highlights of twentieth century abstract art into storage to mount a sumptuous display of Abstract Expressionist masterpieces.

The show is titled “Abstract Expressionist New York,” which struck me as something of a tautology. I’m no art historian, but I have always thought of Abstract Expressionism as a peculiarly New York phenomenon, no matter how far its ripples might have spread.

These were artists who had big egos and a very New York kind of cockiness that combined to inaugurate an era of artist-as-rock-star. Their bravado and machismo, slipping occasionally to posturing, is amply displayed.

All the movement’s big names are here: Pollack, of course, Rothko, Kline, Gottlieb, Motherwell, Newman, and Still. But lesser lights are represented as well, including Lee Krassner who had the misfortune of being Pollack’s wife and thus condemned to be viewed forever in his shadow. Willem de Kooning is also here, although discussion still continues on how much of an Abstract Expressionist he actually was, given his stubborn interest in figurative work.

If you are a lover of Abstract Expressionism, you will enjoy meeting old friends. You may make new discoveries, as I did with the small black and white photographs of Aaron Suskind, whose beautiful shots of peeling paint and faded walls are perfect counterparts to the large color compositions nearby.

The show is too big to be confined to one floor. On the second and third floors you will find galleries devoted to works on paper and sculpture.

But the paintings, especially the big paintings, are the stars of this show. These were the hallmark of the movement: big, bold, and assertive as only New Yorkers can be, they announced to the world that the epicenter of art, important art, had moved irrevocably to New York.

If you go, be sure to break up your viewing with lunch or a snack at Moma’s cafeteria café on the second floor. The food is excellent, the prices moderate, and the company (you will be sitting at long communal tables) well worth discovering.

“Abstract Expressionism New York” continues through April 25, 2011.

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“Abstract Expressionism New York”

The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)

11 West 53rd Street

New York, NY 10019

212-708-9400

www.moma.org

Admission: $20 adults, $16 seniors 65+, $12 students

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