Landmark Essays Perl
These included show, which was organised by the dealer Leo Castelli and displayed in a rented space in Greenwich Village in 1951.
After their breakthroughs, Pollock and de Kooning chose to deliberately disturb the expectations of their viewers and critics when they debuted their black pourings and Women series, respectively, during the early 1950s.
Pollock wrote in 1951, ‘I’ve had a period of drawing on canvas in black – with some of my early images coming thru – think the non-objectivists will find them disturbing – and the kids who think it simple to splash a Pollock out.’7 When Pollock and de Kooning returned to figuration and more colour in these works, it was considered a reactionary retreat from the historic adventure of abstraction.
In 1953, for example, magazine reported that, ‘Some pained partisans of abstract art pointed out that de Kooning was attempting to ride two horses (representation and abstraction) at once, and thought he failed.’8Unlike Pollock and de Kooning, whose departures from their breakthroughs registered as turnarounds and even defections, Kline more cautiously developed his breakthrough style, only really veering off course during the later 1950s with his paintings in colour (see, for instance, 1960, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia).
Fundamentally, the trope was a rhetorical dramatisation of one of modernism’s main imperatives: the rejection of tradition.
In the specific context of abstract expressionism, a breakthrough entailed a move away from figuration towards abstraction and, most particularly, from the European tradition of painting towards a unique personal style.
What differentiates Kline’s gestural abstraction from historic geometric abstraction is that the logic that links these disparate forms is potentially representational.
Hess and similarly engaged art critics emphasised the former aspect while implicitly providing, in their passionate and consistent advocacy of the abstract expressionists, the public acknowledgement in print that served to certify these breakthroughs.
It is thus possible to discriminate between artistic and professional breakthroughs, which usually and ideally – that is, if the public is sympathetic to the art – follow on from one another so quickly that they are virtually identical.
As the analysis of contemporary criticism given elsewhere in this In Focus demonstrates, critics who saw the exhibition in which was first shown – held in late 1961 at the Sidney Janis Gallery, New York – were expecting at that point a ‘change’ in artistic orientation and considered Kline’s return to his black and white palette to be the product of a failure to develop his artwork.1It is crucial to note that the now-standard account of Kline’s breakthrough appeared in its final and current form in 1962.
It thus emerged long after the artistic ‘breakthrough’ itself took place, which may have been in 1948, 1949 or 1950, and appeared very soon after Kline’s death.