So I finally made it to the Abstract Expressionism show at the Royal Academy on the very last day. And I’m glad I braved the cold and cycled into town as what a great exhibition it was. Often these shows are billed as a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity, but this really was a chance to see artworks that are rarely loaned from their permanent homes. I won’t labour the point as the show is now finished, and I really must try to get into the habit of going to see things when they open rather seconds before they close!
The show starts with a room full of early works by the artists who were later grouped together under the Abstract Expressionism banner. It’s fascinating to spot the ideas and traits that these disparate artists would go on to develop. There is darkness at the heart of some of these works, not surprising perhaps as this generation of artists lived through the tumultuous first half of the 20th century. The exhibition devotes whole rooms to the major players, but also groups work by artists (who may be less well know) by themes such as ‘Gesture as Colour’ and ‘The Violent Mark’.
Jackson Pollock‘s work populates the largest room, as the size of some of his work demands, but even though he is possibly the most famous artist here (along with Mark Rothko), I still find myself unmoved by his work. The luminosity of of Rothko’s familiar rectangles shimmer in the adjacent room. I’ve visited the Seagram Murals at Tate Modern on many occasions, and I love the atmosphere they create, but it was wonderful to see a group of paintings that I wasn’t familiar with. Other joys were the works of Barnett Newman, Franz Klein‘s muscular monochromes and the work of Clyfford Still and Joan Mitchell (whose work I didn’t know at all).
If you missed the show, it’s well worth seeking out the lovely accompanying catalogue, which gives a flavour of this exhibition’s visual impact and range.