This display brings together works by American artists made after 1945. The period is best known for the development of abstract expressionist painting, characterised by gestural brushstrokes and the impression of spontaneity. But the supposed ‘triumph’ of this movement has tended to obscure the more diverse range of approaches that coexisted in the art of post-war America. This display accentuates, instead, the uncertain boundaries and persistent connections between abstract and figurative tendencies in mid-century American art.
The starting point is Orthodox Boys 1948, a meticulous social realist work by Bernard Perlin. This street scene – charged with the anxieties and aspirations of Jews in post-war New York – is dominated by a wall of graffiti. In the wall’s atomised scrawl, Perlin registers the emerging orthodoxy of abstract expressionism, and its fields of all-over mark-making. Other works on display mix abstract and figurative content: portraits by Larry Rivers and Andy Warhol incorporate the techniques of gestural abstraction, while the collage techniques of Ellsworth Kelly, John Chamberlain and Harry Callahan create bold abstract shapes without disguising their recognisable content.
Curated by Dr. Alex Taylor and presented as part of Refiguring American Art, a Tate Research initiative supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art.