Modern Art USA: Men, Rebellion, Conquest, 1900-1956

By Rudi Blesh | Go to book overview

17. Presences

Toughness, both physical and mental, is perhaps the most striking thing about the abstract expressionists. Without swaggering, most of them impress you as men who could take good care of themselves in a free-for-all, and could do it singly. For they are certainly not a close-welded brotherhood. When they band together, it is for social and tactical reasons, but in art and everything else they fight alone. The title "abstract expressionism" is a garment that fits because it is loose. Far less united than were the Fauves, the early cubists, or the de Stijl geometricists, they want no part of conformity or the dictatorships of theory and style.

Expect no mass standing vote from this group. You have to call the roll separately.

First is short, stocky Hans Hofmann, florid and white- haired, approaching eighty, yet overflowing with the vitality and the optimism of youth. Hofmann, born in Germany in 1880, belongs in the generation of Picasso, Braque, and Léger. Yet he takes his stand here, though old enough to be De Kooning's father and Stamos's, or even Motherwell's, grandfather.

Hofmann was reared among the German expressionists and then came here, where he has taught and painted since 1932. Hans is overpoweringly likable; he made many friends. The young accepted him as one of themselves, and his strong convictions, so magnetically conveyed, made him an early influence, particularly in the basic way that he insisted painting should be approached. The freed imagination, he has said, must create life in the picture. He believes that color by itself creates form, and he paints spontaneously with fury that is a real fury even if it is cheerful rather than grim.

Fervor, rather than fury, belongs to Mark Tobey, who,

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Modern Art USA: Men, Rebellion, Conquest, 1900-1956
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • 1. the World Stirs in Its Sleep 3
  • 2. Home Life on the Other Side of the Moon 9
  • 3. Plot in an Attic 23
  • 4. Rebellion in an Amory 41
  • 5. Aftermath 57
  • 6. Independents' Day 68
  • 7. Dada and Despair 85
  • 8. Modern Art's First Museum 103
  • 9. Art in a Skyscraper 114
  • 10. the Artist is the Man Next Door 131
  • Ii. Passage to Permanence 145
  • 12. Termite, Time Capsule, and Pedestal 162
  • 13. Isms and Wasms 185
  • 15. Go West, Young Art, Go West 222
  • 16. Arriving 241
  • 17. Presences 262
  • 18. the Present 282
  • Index i
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