Abstract Expressionism

I was asked last night about the origin of the term ‘Abstract Expressionism’.   I knew the straightforward answer to the question, that it was first used in 1946 by Robert Coates to describe the work of Hans Hofmann.   But I couldn’t answer the second question.   Who was Robert Coates ?  Peter Mayer, who republished some of his experimental fiction, knew the answer.   He was the ballet critic for the New Yorker, a protégé of Gertrude Stein and author of books, now not much read, including The Eater of Darkness (1926) and The Outlaw Years (1930).   He described the works of Jackson Pollock as ‘mere unorganized explosions of random energy, and therefore meaningless’.


5 thoughts on “Abstract Expressionism

  1. If “unorganised explosions of random energy”, “meaningless”, was Coates’s considered view of Pollock, he couldn’t be more wrong. He should have stuck to ballet criticism.

    Of course there is violence, and conflict and drama, but there is also calm and organisation : the Poles in “BLUE POLES”. There is spontaneity, but there is also elegance, and his handling of paint and colour is masterly.

  2. marinavaizey says:

    The term is much older, used first about Kandinsky just after the First World War, and by the legendary Alfred Barr of MoMa, also about Kandinsky, I think in the 1930s. It is a superb exhibition filled with masterpieces, and eye opening. One of course can always niggle but I am disappointed at the whinging whiny tone of some of the reviews, the exhibition is a once in a generation opportunity if not once in a lifetime chance, and of course one or two masterpieces have to be omitted — as always! I hope the attendances are soaring.

    • Only two not-so-good reviews that I’m aware of: an oddly negative review by Matthew Collings in the Evening Standard and a more thoughtfully critical review by Adrian Searle in the Guardian. Otherwise, much enthusiasm, some of it ecstatic. Charles

  3. marinavaizey says:

    I guess those are the ones that stick in the mind, alas, but hooray for enthusiasm; I wrote very enthusiastically too, on theartsdesk.com

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