Bruce Museum

Greenwich, CT



The American Avant-Garde: A Decade of Change 1936-1946

October 1 - December 31, 2000


The Bruce Museum of Arts and Science presents The American Avant-Garde: A Decade of Change 1936-1946, an exhibition of over sixty paintings focused on defining the avant-garde in American art within the decade between the Depression and the end of World War II. Drawn from museums, private collections, and other sources, the exhibition features the works of 44 artists, and includes major examples of 20th century abstraction as well as lesser or little-known works. The exhibition will feature such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko and Hans Hoffman. Works are on loan from the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Yale University Art Gallery, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Art and others, as well as outstanding private collections.

This exhibition reevaluates a key decade in our artistic heritage and revises thinking about Abstract Expressionism, a truly American art movement. The period from 1936 to 1946 is a complex period of emergence and development which has nonetheless been largely overlooked in light of the stunning breakthroughs in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The American Avant-Garde: A Decade of Change 1936-1946 opens with the year 1936, when regional and social realism was the prevailing style. It ends a decade later in 1946 at the moment when the highly charged, gestural form of abstraction known as Abstract Expressionism would come to the attention of the American public. (left: Raphael Soyer, Nocturne, 1935, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot, 1967, photo © 1992 The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The American Avant-Garde: A Decade of Change 1936-1946 addresses the idea that Abstract Expressionism finds its source in the fabric of artistic, social and political developments of the 1930s. Abstract Expressionism is seen as a synthesis of many factors - diverse styles of European modern art, the extraordinary social and political changes happening between the Depression and the end of World War II, and even the realist art against which the abstract art rebelled,

The show opens with a representation of the artistic status quo in the mid-1930s, with works by such artists as Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, Grant Wood, and Raphael Soyer, when Regionalism and Social Realism prevailed. These works create the intellectual framework of the exhibition by showing the art against which the avant-garde reacted. Jackson Pollock and Clyfford Still, later the major innovators of Abstract Expressionism, were originally regionalist painters. (left: Jackson Pollock, Man, Bull, Bird, c. 1938-41, executed for the WPA Federal Art Project, oil on canvas, 24 1/2 x 36 1/4 inches, Berry-Hill Galleries, New York)

The exhibition then moves to the avant-garde of the late 1930s, which was highly divergent. The geometric abstractionists, who based their art on a desire for order and logic, are represented by such artists as Burgoyne Diller, Irene Rice Pereira and John Ferren. John Graham and the group around him, who included Arshile Gorky, Stuart Davis, Willem de Kooning and David Smith, took Cubist style as their standard. The group known as "The Ten, which formed in 1935 and included Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb, derived their style from Milton Avery's color fields. These and other artistic influences - the great synthesis of this art - are investigated.

Finally, The American Avant-Garde presents the contribution of the avant-garde of the 1940s, including the work of such notable artists as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell. The exhibition also examines the role of World War II and the influence of Surrealism. It explores the development of the individual styles of such artists as Willem de Kooning, Arshile Corky, Adolph Gottlieb, William Baziotes, Richard Pousette-Dart, Ad Reinhardt, and others.

The American Avant-Garde: A Decade of Change 1936-1946 is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support for the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue is provided by State Street Global Advisors and Dedalus Foundation.

The full-color catalogue includes essays by the curators Nancy Hall-Duncan, Bruce Museum Curator of Art, and internationally-known art historian Irving Sandler, author of The Triumph of American Painting: The History of Abstract Impressionism and The New York School: Painters and Sculptors of the 1950s. Sandler, the foremost authority on Abstract Expressionism, brings unique insight and singular scholarship to the project.

Read more about the Bruce Museum in Resource Library Magazine.

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 3/23/11

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2011 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.