In 1949, the artist Robert Motherwell coined the phrase “New York School” to describe the group of Abstract Expressionists who were working in Manhattan after the Second World War. These artists typically explored non-representational styles that were characterized by the use of gestural brushwork - or Action Painting - and flattened, abstract forms. There was no “New York School” academy, other than the exchange of ideas at various downtown studios, at the Cedar Bar, and at an organization called the Artists’ Club. Exhibition opportunities included the “9th Street” New York Painting and Sculpture annuals and shows at the Stable Gallery and the Charles Egan and Betty Parsons Galleries.
A number of the “New York School” artists were immigrants, and many were war veterans or persons who had contributed to the war effort at home. Among the latter was Grace Hartigan, who had been a draftsman in a defense plant. Some had been employed by the Works Projects Administration in the 1930s, but all rejected the social realism of that period. The art that replaced it celebrated the two-dimensional surface with personalized, often aggressive, paint application.
Several “New York School” painters continued to explore figural motifs, but a majority of the artists in this loose association moved even further away from recognizable content. Earlier German Expressionist and French Cubist and Surrealist paintings were among the sources for their work, which found expression in pictographs, automatic writing, collage, loose patterning, and studies of pure color and line.
Although the principles of Abstract Expressionism were explored across the United States after the war, a significant number of artists first tested its theories as part of the “New York School” group. This exhibition, which is selected principally from the Museum’s collection, only partially represents the participants. It serves as an indication of the vitality of this postwar movement that renewed modem art and made New York its center in the second half of the 20th century.