New York School abstract expressionism

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New York School abstract expressionism dominated a period of the post-World War II art world, beginning in 1945 and lasting to about 1957, when pop art appeared.

The renowned art historian Marilyn Stokstad wrote the following[1]:

When the United States of America emerged from World War II as the most powerful nation in the world its new stature was soon reflected in the arts. American artists and architects—especially those living in New York City—assumed a leadership in artistic innovation that by the late 1950s had been acknowledged across the Atlantic even in Paris.


By the late 1940s artists of the New York School felt the need to organize themselves. The first meeting place was the “Studio 35,” located at 35 East 8th Street. Robert Iglehart, Hale Woodruff and Tony Smith who were teachers in the New York University School of Art Education, in the fall of 1949 privately took over the loft which previously housed “Subjects of the Artist,” “Studio 35” provided the forum for Friday evening lectures by advanced artists. Among the artists who lectured, were Jean Arp, William Baziotes, Jimmy Ernst, Herbert Ferber, Fritz Glarner, Adolph Gottlieb, Harry Holtzman, Weldon Kees, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt and Mark Rothko. It closed in April 23, 1950 after a three-day seminar.[2]

The Club

The first organized activity by the New York avant-garde was the formation of The Club. Rudi Blesh described the atmosphere at the time of its formation:[3]

The Club was set up in 1949 by a group of twenty. There was one empty place at The Club that no one could ever fill. That was the place of that wild, lovable Armenian, Wostanig Adoyan, who had taken the fanciful name of Arshile Gorky when he came to America. Gorky, who had been proud of the fact that three art schools had ‘canned’ him, who had endured the most abject poverty in order to paint, who all through the terrible 1920’s and on to the end of his life had fought thievishly for modernism, was only forty four when he died in 1948. But his influence had been tremendous with the other men: he spoke their language both in paint and in words—that soaring, poetic word-imagery which painters will not tolerate from critics, but themselves love to employ. Gorky was gone, and, as Lloyd Goodrich, Director of the Whitney Museum, was moved to say, it ‘was a tragic loss to the art of America and the world’ Gorky’s going was then so recent as to be not quite believable.

The Club or the Artists’ Club was located at 39 East 8th Street. The mem­bers, with few ex­cep­tions, were mostly war vet­er­an, forty year old, pro­fes­sion­al artists. Prior to the war, many of them par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Federal Art Project, (WPA) Works Progress Ad­min­is­tra­tion, which pro­vid­ed sti­pends during the depression in the Roosevelt administration.

Jeanne Miles, one of the veteran artists of the early members of the Club, described it in the following way:[4]

Phillip Pavia and Landes Lewitin were, in a way, the backbone of the Club. The weekly meetings were filled with volatile discussion and argument. Artists had a chance there to exchange ideas and confront critics and curators, who were often invited to the Club to explain themselves. The Cedar Bar and the Club probably had the most stimulating influence on American art since the Armory show. At that time there was a contagious atmosphere of involvement in art. For many artists the Cedar Bar was a home away from, home. Franz Kline picked up his mail there. Any night of the week it housed the ‘art world’—artists, critics, dealers, collectors, museum curators and directors. Since they all fit into the bar, the art world was not as large as we thought it was. The talk was always about art, and there were fights, but the issues were aesthetic. There was no art market money talk then. The atmosphere provided nourishment for many struggling artists who later became successful.

Jack Tworkov, one of the members of the Club later recollected:[5]

Post World War II painting in New York moved against two repressive experiences-the rhetoric of social realism, preached especially by the artists and ideologues on the arts projects of the thirties, and the hegemony of Paris in modern art. The re­sponse was an art that stood against all formula, an art in which impulse, instinct and the automatic, as guides to interior reality, were to usurp all forms of intellectualizing. I cannot remember any period of my life that so went to my head as 1949. It marked the foundation of the Artists’ Club in New York and heralded a decade of painting as fruitful and revolutionary as the Impressionism of 1870.

9th Street Art Exhibition

The weekly discussions in the Club led to the idea of organizing an exhibition. The organization of the “9th Street Show,” May 21- June 10, 1951, aimed to connect to the public and to unify the down­town artists. The show was located at 60 East 9th Street in the first floor and the basement of a building that was about to be demolished. [6]

The artists celebrated not only the appearance of dealers, collectors, and museum people on 9th Street, and the consequent exposure of their work but they celebrated the creation and the strength of a living community of significant dimensions........There was an informal committee that chose the participants, actively viewing work by newcomers along with notifying artists in and around the Club.

The poster of the historical "9th St." Show [7]was designed by Franz Kline, listing the names of the sixty-one invited participants.

Artists of the 9th Street Art Exhibition [8]

The 9th Street Art Exhibition showed the work of the pioneers of the New York School:

New York Artists’ Annuals

The New York School which represented the New York School abstract expressionists of the 1950s was documented through a series of artists’ painting and sculpture annual exhibitions.

The First New York Painting and Sculpture Annual held initially in New York City at a temporary gallery in 9th Street in 1951. The 9th Street Art Exhibition (“9th St.” Show) continued in 1953 at the Stable Gallery[9] in New York City and continued until 1957.[10][11][12][13][14][15]

The Complete List of Artists' Participation in the New York Painting and Sculpture Annuals, 1951-1957 [16]

























  1. ‘’Marylin Stokstad, Art History. Revised edition, Volume 2’’ (New York Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1999) p. 1109. ISBN 0810919915
  2. Robert Motherwell, Ad Reinhardt, Aaron Siskind, Bernard Karpel, Joyce Wittenborn eds., Modern Artists in America, first series, (New York: Wittenborn Schultz, Inc., 1950.) OCLC 58912632
  3. Stuart Davis; Lloyd Goodrich; Whitney Museum of American Art, Biographical note in catalogue of the Arshile Gorky Memorial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1951
  4. Jeanne Miles, Art Now, co-editor, Ward Jackson; New York, Vol. 1, No. 10, Dec. 1969
  5. Jack Tworkov, “Notes on My Painting,” Art in America (September-October 1973), p. 69
  6. Bruce Altshuler, ‘’The avant-Garde In Exhibition New Art in the 20th Century,’’ New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1994, Chap­ter 9, p.171.
  7. ‘’9th Street Art Exhibition’’
  8. ‘’9th Street Art Exhibition’’
  9. New York School Abstract Expressionists Artists Choice by Artists, (New York School Press, 2000.) ISBN 0-9677994-0-6, pp.18-33
  10. 9th Street Art Exhibition,
  11. Second Annual Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture,
  12. Third Annual Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture,
  13. Fourth Annual Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture,
  14. Fifth Annual Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture,
  15. New York Artists' 6th Annual Exhibition.
  16. New York School Abstract Expressionists Artists Choice by Artists,