The New York School: The Painters and Sculptors of the Fifties

The New York School: The Painters and Sculptors of the Fifties

The New York School: The Painters and Sculptors of the Fifties

The New York School: The Painters and Sculptors of the Fifties

Excerpt

From 1947 TO 1951, more than a dozen Abstract Expressionists achieved "breakthroughs" to independent styles. During the following years, these painters, the first generation of the New York School, received growing recognition nationally and globally, to the extent that American vanguard art came to be considered the primary source of creative ideas and energies in the world, and a few masters, notably Pollock, de Kooning, and Rothko, were elevated to art history's pantheon. Younger artists who entered their circle in the early fifties—the early wave of the second generation—such as Larry Rivers, Helen Frankenthaler, Grace Hartigan, Allan Kaprow, Joan Mitchell, Robert Rauschenberg, and Richard Stankiewicz (to list some of the better known), were also acclaimed, but with a few exceptions, their reputations had gone into decline by the end of the fifties. In the following decade, the second generation was eclipsed by a third generation, the innovators of Pop, Op, Minimal, and Conceptual Art. (Any notion of a generation of artists is necessarily arbitrary, of course. The term "generation," as it is used here, refers to a group of artists close in age who live in the same neighborhood at the same time, and to a greater or lesser degree, know each other and partake of a similar sensibility, a shared outlook and aesthetic.)

From 1960 to the present, critical attention has been focused on the first and third generations of the New York School, largely overlooking the one in between. This second generation has been dismissed as derivative, as the "school" of de Kooning or of Tenth Street, and as the insignificant tail end of Abstract Expressionism. The rich, varied, and complex ideas and insights that shaped fifties art, its particular attitude, have been almost disregarded or forgotten. Thus, the few artists of the period who continued to command interest after 1960 rarely have been treated with reference to the aesthetic context in which they developed. Indeed, even those successful few have often been numbered among sixties artists, so forgotten has the milieu of the earlier decade become.

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