Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air…

Yesterday I saw the Ab Ex show at MoMA with  my friend Jessie.  I loved it.  No big surprises, but very cool to see an early Rothko that made me think of Gorky and an early Pollock that made me think of Picasso and Matisse.  and an early Motherwell that to me alluded to his later abstract Elegies to the Spanish Republic…

Franz Kline and Clyfford Still are two of my favorite artists. Such energy. Tension. About to explode, but carefully planned. Rothko and Mitchell also usually do it for me, as do Newman and Motherwell.  Richard Serra, Edward Burtynksy, Donald Judd, Carl Andre.  You get the idea.

Kline and Still tho. And to see them together in the same room. Lovely. The show drew on MoMA’s own collection, so nothing too new, but great to see how well they hang together. Would be so great to see them in a non-museum setting and see them lived with, though. (I clearly need more rich friends.) And Still did hate museums (esp MoMA), but until the Still Museum opens in Denver, I have few other options.

What follows is the wall text.  I thought it was absolutely brilliant:

“The powerful brushstrokes and expansive surfaces of Kline’s and Still’s paintings share with the sculptures an implicit allusion to the vast American landscape and to the self-reliant, independent citizen celebrated by writer Ralph Waldo Emerson.”

Emerson.  Couldn’t have said it better any other way.

I’m the farthest thing from a critic.  I liked the show, but I think my tastes are a bit narrow and most figurative work doesn’t do it for me.  And saying you like this show is like saying how you saw Radiohead and they happened to be pretty good.  Unobjectionable.  Safe.  Cool, but not too cool.  At this stage in the game, what you go to see isn’t revolutionary, but still a lot of fun.

Kline and Still, though.  That’s where it’s at.  I love the pure emotion, and that it is so constrained.  Calculated.  It’s not Pollack.

Here’s Clyfford Still’s 1944-N No. 2 (1944)
Photo: © Clyfford Still Estate/Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

So raw.  The canvas is ripping itself apart.  Something is breaking through.

This was my favorite Kline.  Painting Number 2 (1954)
Franz Kline Painting Number 2
Photo: © Museum of Modern Art, New York

It was all after the war, time for new ideas, rebirth, rebuilding.  What I liked most about this show was that it reminded me that this whole New York School didn’t burst out of the art world’s collective forehead fully formed – it took time with awkward phases.  But along with that, and with all good art, the idea of creating something the world had never seen before was central to it.

In the Kline – and especially the Still – looking at it and thinking about what the artist must have felt when painting it is what makes a powerful experience for a viewer. What they felt as artists surely isn’t unique, but the fact that I think I can feel that same range of emotions and be hit over the head with them by just looking at the canvas is what I love. There could be no mistake that this was art that had to be let out.

“I find that the Americans have no passions, they have appetites.” – R W Emerson


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