Exhibition: ‘Abstract Expressionist New York: The Big Picture’ at The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York

Exhibition dates: October 3rd 2010 – April 25th 2011


What a privilege to post all of these works together.

Aaron Siskind has to be one of my favourite photographers of all time (and space). His ‘Martha’s Vineyard’ (see photograph below), like most of his work, is superb: the abstraction and counterpose are magnificent. Team this with a couple of Rothko, a Motherwell, a de Kooning and a knockout of a Hartigan and you certainly have the start of ‘The Big Picture’. I wish I could have been there to see this exhibition – sigh!

Many thankx to The Museum of Modern Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.




Jackson Pollock (American, 1912-1956)
Number 1A, 1948
Oil and enamel paint on canvas
68″ x 8′ 8″ (172.7 x 264.2 cm)
© 2010 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



Jack Tworkov (American, born Poland, 1900–1982)
West 23rd
Oil on canvas
60″ x 6′ 8″ (152.6 x 203.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase
© Estate of Jack Tworkov, courtesy Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York



Robert Motherwell (American, 1915-1991)
Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 54
Oil on canvas
70″ x 7′ 6 1/4″ (178 x 229 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Given anonymously
© Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY



David Smith (American, 1906–1965)
Painted steel
6′ 7 1/2″ x 8′ 11 7/8″ x 16 1/8″ (202 x 274 x 41 cm), on cinder block base, 17 1/2 x 16 3/4 x 15 1/4″ (44.5 x 42.5 x 38.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of William Rubin
© Estate of David Smith/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY



Aaron Siskind (American, 1903–1991)
Martha’s Vineyard
Gelatin silver print
12 7/16 x 16 1/2″ (31.6 x 41.9 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase
© 2010 Estate of Aaron Siskind



Arshile Gorky (American, born Armenia, 1904–1948)
Oil on canvas
40 x 50 1/2″ (101.6 x 128.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. A. Conger Goodyear Fund
© 2010 The Arshile Gorky Foundation / The Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



“Subtitled The Big Picture, this installation of 100 Abstract Expressionist paintings and a rich selection of some 60 sculptures, drawings, prints, and photographs, occupies the entire fourth floor of the Museum and chronicles the era of Abstract Expressionism. The movement drew together a host of artists with greatly varying stylistic approaches, but with a common commitment to the power of an abstract art that could express personal convictions and profound human values.

Organized in a loose chronology, intermittently interrupted by monographic galleries that allow for the in-depth study of an individual artist’s practice, the installation opens with a selection of paintings and drawings that attest to the acutely self-conscious sense of new beginnings present in the work of individuals such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, they and their peers – not yet a cohesive group – created imagery that evoked primitive man or ancient myth, and conjured an aquatic or geological pre-human world.

Upon entering the galleries, visitors are greeted by Jackson Pollock’s The She-Wolf (1943), which was featured in the artist’s first solo exhibition, in 1943, and was the first work by Pollock to enter a museum collection when MoMA acquired it the following year. Made before Pollock developed his signature “drip” style, the canvas shows that a free-form abstraction and an unfettered play of materials were already parts of his process. Also on view is Mark Rothko’s Slow Swirl at the Edge of the Sea (1944), a canvas picturing two creatures floating between sea and sky, surrounded by arabesques, spirals, and stripes that betrays the influence of Surrealism on Rothko’s early work.

A monographic gallery devoted to the work of Barnett Newman includes Onement, I (1952), which the artist later identified as his breakthrough painting. Modest in size, it consists of a monochromatic background divided in half by a vertical band, or “zip” as the artist later called it. Every successive painting by Newman, as seen in the seven works in this gallery, features this particular compositional motif, although their formal and emotional differences are apparent. The scale and proportions of the paintings, as well as their palette and brushwork, vary from work to work, as do the number of zips and their location in the field of color. At the other end of the spectrum from this relatively small canvas is Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950-51), an 18-foot-wide, vibrant red expanse that was Newman’s largest painting at the time of its creation.

The distinctive materials, techniques, and approaches developed and practiced by the Abstract Expressionists can be seen in a number of other works from the late 1940s and early 1950s. For Painting (1948), Willem de Kooning used oil and enamel sign paint to create a densely packed painting in which the paint drips, bleeds, congeals, or dissolves into delicate streaks. Lee Krasner’s Untitled (1949) shows that she applied thick paint – sometimes directly from the tube – in rhythmic and repetitive strokes, giving equal attention to every inch of the canvas and creating an allover composition. Bradley Walker Tomlin, in Number 20 (1949), and Adolph Gottlieb, in Man Looking at Woman (1949), distributed imagery evoking the alphabet and hieroglyphics evenly across their canvases.

A large gallery focusing on the work of Jackson Pollock includes Full Fathom Five (1947), one of earliest “drip” paintings, and Number 1A, 1948 (1948), the first drip painting to enter MoMA’s collection (in 1950). For One: Number 31, 1950 (1950), a masterpiece of the drip technique and one of Pollock’s largest paintings (8′ 10″ x 17′ 5 5/8″ [269.5 x 530.8 cm]), the artist laid the canvas on the floor of his studio and poured, dribbled, and flicked enamel paint onto the surface, sometimes straight from the can, or with sticks and stiffened brushes. The density of interlacing liquid threads of paint is balanced and offset by puddles of muted colors and by allover spattering.

Eight paintings made by Mark Rothko over a 14-year period are presented in a single gallery. The earliest examples from 1948, such as No. 1 (Untitled), feature variously sized abstract forms caught mid-motion as they shift on the canvas. Beginning in 1950, Rothko’s “classic” style forms as the artist creates a composition from horizontal planes of thinly layered paint and highly modulated color, simplifying the compositional structure of his paintings and arriving at his signature style. No. 10 (1950) is divided horizontally into three dominant planes of blue, yellow, and white that softly and subtly bleed into one another. Acquired by MoMA in 1952, it was the first Rothko to enter the Museum’s collection, and was considered so radical that a trustee of the Museum resigned in protest.

MoMA’s practice of making in-depth acquisitions of work by artists that its curators judged to be of greatest importance was complemented by acquisitions of smaller numbers of works by other artist who played roles too significant to be forgotten. The Big Picture includes paintings and sculptures by more than 20 artists.

There is a gallery devoted to a selection of photographs made by individuals who used a camera to explore kindred artistic concerns – often resulting in work with striking stylistic similarities. Aaron Siskind may be the photographer most closely associated with Abstract Expressionism, and numerous works of his on display suggest the depth of this connection. Also featured in this installation is work by Harry Callahan, Robert Frank, Minor White, and others, revealing the variety of ways in which the sensibility or structure of paintings from this period manifested itself photographically.

The exhibition includes some 30 items from the MoMA Archives, documenting the relation of the Museum to Abstract Expressionism. Materials represent the institution’s influential series of “Americans” exhibitions, organized by Dorothy C. Miller, which included several Abstract Expressionist artists in four of its iterations. In addition, documentation regarding the internationally circulating New American Painting show (also organized by Miller) is presented. This important exhibition travelled to eight European cities in 1958-59 and propelled the homegrown Abstract Expressionist movement onto the international art scene. A third section includes photographs of artists and their own statements and letters. Highlights include: exhibition catalogues, installation photographs, newsclippings, and ephemera; photographs of artists in the studio with their artworks; a letter from Robert Motherwell to Miller describing the four themes of his art (automatic means, pure abstractions, political or a kind of “disasters” series, and intimate pictures), a letter from Ad Reinhardt to Miller recommending a different installation of his paintings, and a statement by Grace Hartigan identifying her subject as the “vulgar and vital in American life, and the possibilities of its transcendence into the beautiful.””

Text from the Museum of Modern Art press release



Ibram Lassaw (American, born Egypt. 1913-2003)
Welded bronze
6’ 1/2″ x 43” x 29” (184.2 x 109.2 x 73.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Katharine Cornell Fund
© 2010 Denise Lassaw/Ibram Lassaw studio



Willem de Kooning (American, born The Netherlands, 1904-1997)
Woman, I
Oil on canvas
6′ 3 7/8″ x 58″ (192.7 x 147.3 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase.
© 2010 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



Grace Hartigan (American, 1922–2008)
Shinnecock Canal
Oil on canvas
7′ 6 1/2″ x 6′ 4″ (229.8 x 193 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of James Thrall Soby
© 2010 The Estate of Grace Hartigan



Louise Nevelson (American, born Ukraine. 1899 -1988)
Sky Cathedral
Painted wood
11’ 3 1/2” x 10’ 1/4″ x 18” (343.9 x 305.4 x 45.7 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Mildwoff
© 2010 Estate of Louise Nevelson/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



Hans Hofmann (American, born Germany, 1880–1966)
Memoria in Aeternum
Oil on canvas
7′ x 6′ 1/8″ (213.3 x 183.2 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist
© 2010 Renate, Hans & Maria Hofmann Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



Mark Rothko (American, born Latvia. 1903-1970)
No. 5/No. 22
Oil on canvas
9′ 9″ x 8′ 11 1/8″ (297 x 272 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the artist.
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



Mark Rothko (American, born Latvia. 1903-1970)
No. 3/No. 13
Oil on canvas
7′ 1 3/8″ x 65″ (216.5 x 164.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Bequest of Mrs. Mark Rothko through The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc.
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street, New York
NY 10019
(212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
Wednesday through Monday: 10.30 am – 5.30 pm
Friday: 10.30 am – 8.00 pm
Closed Tuesday

MOMA website


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4 Responses to “Exhibition: ‘Abstract Expressionist New York: The Big Picture’ at The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York”

  1. May 20, 2011 at 8:30 am

    Thank you so much for your blog, it makes MoMA a little closer to me. I love the Hartigan quote. This is the first decent art blog I have stumbled on- it was exactly what I needed and so is the first I have subscribed to. Cheers Sue.

  2. 2 ANA
    April 26, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    I visited the exhibition twice over this month and it was awesome. I really liked your review too.

  3. April 21, 2011 at 10:51 am

    this is a wonderful post, thank you!
    further, this is a wonderful blog; i subscribe by email, and appreciate what you do here….especially the large format images.
    i have been meaning to ask, do you really navigate the permissions and copyright departments of moma, the metropolitain museum, et al, and acquire the larger images for your posts directly from them? frankly, that has seemed tedious to me so i’ve stayed away from those sources.
    i was just wondering…
    in any event, kudos on providing a lovely visual experience for us art lovers!

    • 4 Dr Marcus Bunyan
      April 22, 2011 at 2:33 am

      Hi thank you for your comments – much appreciated 🙂
      The blog takes a lot of work and planning but I enjoy it. The galleries, once you have made a relationship with them and they see the quality of the reviews and postings, provide excellent images as long as you are respectful of accreditation issues. Unlike some digitised collections where they quality of the reproductions is poor, the blog prides itself on good quality large format images. I will not post substandard poor images as a matter of principle – in this day and age good quality images should be available online. These images promote the museum/gallery and the work of the artist(s) concerned, broadening the galleries audience both physically and virtually and, of course, increasing the visibility of the galleries collection. In this new mediascape engagement with audiences is critical to the galleries viability and gives art lovers the chance to (virtually) see work that we would not otherwise.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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