Westmoreland Museum of American Art Goes Big with 'Modern Masters'

Article excerpt

If you possess even a modicum of knowledge in regard to history of art, you likely know of the term "Abstract Expressionism."

The phrase originally had been used in 1919 to describe the most indescribable paintings of Russian avant-garde artist Wasily Kandinsky, who is often credited as the inventor of abstract painting.

But, in the context of modern American painting, it was first used in 1945 by New Yorker magazine art critic Robert Coates. No sooner had Coates conjured up the term than it become synonymous with a scraggly group of young New Yorkers, some newly minted citizens, expatriate by-products of World War II who were living and working in the Big Apple.

Though they were a loosely knit group of painters, they shared a similar outlook. It was one characterized by spontaneous freedom of expression and the rejection of formalist traditions.

Often, that meant these Abstract Expressionists left behind the moderate, easel-sized canvases most painters used for centuries in favor of larger, often room-sized ones -- so big, they were often painted on the floor.

Not pretty pictures per se, these were expressive works made of splattered and dripped paint applied in broad brush strokes. Or, sometimes, without the use of a brush at all. That is why many of the museums whose collections include these works today have galleries big enough to house them. The Carnegie Museum of Art's Sarah Scaife Galleries is a perfect example.

So, it may be a surprise that starting today, visitors to the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg will find such equally large paintings in what is a relatively small museum.

The show, titled "Modern Masters," features more than 40 such large-size works.

"I would say that this exhibition is an exceptional one for The Westmoreland to host, giving our audience the opportunity to view large-scale paintings -- several of which are over 9 feet long -- by major artists who were working in abstract expressionist, minimalist, optical, and figurative realms during the second half of the 20th century," says Westmoreland Museum's curator Barbara Jones.

This exhibition, which comes to the museum by way of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, examines the complex and heterogeneous nature of American art in the mid-20th century.

Featuring 31 of the most celebrated artists who came to maturity at that time, the exhibit traces the history of this epochal period. …