The Jewish Museum’s current exhibition, “Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning and American Art 1940-1976”, pits famed art critics of the era, Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, against one another and against the 20th Century as they reacted to and addressed the artwork of their contemporaries. The Abstract Expressionists Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, we learn, best exemplified the two writers’ theories of what was best in art at the time. For Greenberg, the flatness achieved by the artists was key while Rosenberg appreciated the action involved in making the paintings above all else. Other New York School artists would win Greenberg and Rosenberg’s favor as well such as Arshile Gorky and Hans Hoffman while talented artists such as Norman Lewis, Grace Hartigan and Lee Krasner failed to win the critics’ attention perhaps due to the race or gender to which they belonged as the curators suggest. The critics, it seems became so involved in art making as to forge relationships with many artists, inspire some who would work in reaction to a review written by one of the writers or introduce artists to one another which would then produce lasting, creative synergies in the form of paintings and sculpture. The exhibition requires patience and time (and perhaps the audio tour) but goes a long way towards illustrating the role the two critics had in NYC art circles and the influence they wielded.
The exhibition runs through September 21, 2008. 1109 Fifth Avenue at East 92nd Street.