List of illustrations

  • Untitled (Naked Man with Knife)
  • Number 4
  • Number 1A, 1948
  • Pancho Villa, Dead and Alive
  • Mistra
  • Promenade
  • Monumentality
  • The Hunter
  • Vir Heroicus Sublimis
  • The Homely Protestant
  • The Hero
  • Man Playing Cello
  • No. 17 [or] No. 15
  • Untitled
  • Pink Angels
  • The Attraction of Pink
  • Untitled
  • Untitled
  • Drunk
  • Untitled (A11)
  • He Is Not A Man
  • Excavation
  • Hudson River Landscape
  • New York
  • New York
  • Genesis—The Break
  • The Blues Has Got Me
  • Seaweed, Martha's Vineyard
  • Street Musicians
  • The Death of Bessie Smith
  • Amazon
  • Untitled, no. 234
  • Unformed Figure
  • Curly Legs
  • Untitled #2
  • Adolph Gottlieb, with the first five African sculptures in his collection
  • The Token
  • Reliquary Figure
  • Tiresias
  • Night Form
  • The Sorceress
  • Pregnant Woman
  • Conrad #2
  • Spectre of Mother
  • Gea
  • Rites of Lilith
  • Male and Female
  • The Red Skirt
  • Georgia Chain Gang
  • White Woman
  • New York City
  • Black-Black
  • Subjugation
  • Shells and Bones
  • Pacific
  • Untitled (Paris)
  • Shapes
  • Two Figures
  • Untitled
  • Landscape
  • Untitled
  • Carnival
  • Columbia Records advertisement
  • Symbols and a Woman
  • Black Mountain #6
  • Latitude of Identical Shapes
  • L'Hasard
  • White Burden
  • Atmospheric
  • Child with Head Thrown Back
  • Maze
  • Blue Figure
  • Transfiguration
  • Washington
  • Shadows with Painting
  • Green Depth
  • Transversion
  • Transverse Parallels
  • Yellow Day
  • Soul's Joy Now I Am Gone
  • Spiral
  • Reflections
  • No. 10
  • Inflated Ego
  • Nautical Composition Provincetown
  • Untitled
  • City Lights
  • St. John the Baptist
  • Mother Church
  • Variegated Family
  • Klan Picnic
  • Perpetual Sacrifice
  • Untitled
  • Untitled
  • Toy I
  • Birds
  • Fixtures
  • Cross
  • Analee Newman
  • Ode VIII, Oh Rose Thou Art Sick
  • Composition (Duck)
  • The Great White Creature
  • Grey Motif
  • Red and Black
  • Monument
  • No. 7
  • Covenant
  • Greene Street
  • The Burning Bush
  • Can Fire in the Park
  • Still Life with Snake and Bird
  • Untitled
  • Afro Emblems
  • Girls Skipping
  • Palaver
  • Figures at Table
  • Painting
  • Flowers of Evil
  • Blues Singer I
  • Slow Down Freight Train
  • Backwater Blues
  • Conjur
  • Grievin' Hearted
  • Untitled
  • Mask No. 11
  • Maya Deren
  • Title Unknown
  • Title Unknown
  • Persistent Antagonism
  • Corner Piece
  • Breasted Woman
  • Staff used by (female) Secret Society (Poro) Liberia
  • Untitled
  • African Moonsun
  • Private Totem
  • (Bermuda) The Burning Forrest [sic]
  • City of the Poor
  • The Warrior
  • Untitled (The Dicks)
  • Untitled
  • Self-Portrait
  • Nude Study from Life
  • Blue Painting
  • Untitled
  • Number 14
  • Untitled
  • Painting No. 19
  • The Clown Is the Center of His World
  • Empty Bed Blues
  • Untitled
  • Desert
  • Living and Dead
  • Untitled
  • Cannon Percale Sheet advertisement
  • Tavern Non-Rub Floor Wax advertisement
  • Pregnant Woman
  • Femme Maison
  • Vision
  • The Kiss
  • Fire
  • Figure
  • Untitled
  • Metamorphosis (originally entitled Demagogues)
  • The Apocalypse: War and the Machine
  • Where Light Is As Darkness
  • Woman III
  • Woman: Red Sea, Dead Sea (#11)
  • St. Tropez (Fisherman's Cove)
  • Fruitscape
  • Thoughts after Hiroshima
  • Leda and the Swan
  • Woman with Shells
  • Moto Perpetuo
  • Metamorphosis
  • Collage, 256
  • Personal World
  • Untitled
  • Rabbit Man
  • Reliquary figure
  • Undated publicity photograph of Thelma Johnson Streat dancing
  • Red Dots, Flying Baby, and Barking Dog
  • Untitled
  • Kifwebe (mask)
  • Untitled
  • Mountain Woman
  • The Owl
  • Moon Lady
  • Sleeping Figure
Description: Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics
“WE ARE FREEING ourselves of the impediments of memory, association, nostalgia, legend, myth, or what have you, that have been the devices of Western European painting. Instead of making cathedrals out of Christ, man, or ‘life,’ we are making it out of ourselves, out of our own feelings,” wrote Barnett Newman in 1948. Forty years later, Ronald Joseph recalled, “Sometimes I felt that these things were being imposed on me: that I should be an American, or European, or Cubist. ... I was no …

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Description: Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics
BECAUSE WRITING THIS book required both expansion and revision of my art historical methods, sources, rosters of artists and critics, and cultural attitudes, I found myself needing a lot of advice. There are two people, however, to whom I am particularly indebted. The first is ceramist and filmmaker Camille Billops, who with her husband, scholar James Hatch, runs the Hatch-Billops Archives in New York City. She introduced me to authors and artists who have been crucial for this book and …
Description: Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics
AS THE MYTH of Abstract Expressionism developed from the late forties through the fifties, it established the reputations of artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, and others. A rebellious movement, it aimed not only to revolutionize representation by superceding America’s regionalism, realism, and recognizably national styles like French Cubism, but in doing so also to oppose America’s isolationism, imperialism, and ethnocentrism. In its …

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Description: Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics
JACKSON POLLOCK PEERS from a dark interior over a foreground crowded with cans of paint, squinting warily at readers from the pages of the 9 November 1959 issue of Life magazine (fig. 2). Despite its title, “Baffling U.S. Art,” the article accompanying the photograph calls Pollock’s work the most influential in the world and credits him with having created a style that was “tense, explosive, mysterious, and altogether new.” The tone of the posthumous article (Pollock died in an automobile …

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Description: Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics
POSTWAR AMERICA WAS anxious. Its mood was described by W. H. Auden in The Age of Anxiety (1946): the prophet and the professor, he wrote, …

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Description: Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics
IN 1945, JEAN-PAUL Sartre observed of Americans, “It is when he is acting like everyone else that he feels most reasonable and most American; it is in displaying his conformism that he feels freest. . . . The peculiarity of the American, on the other hand, is that he regards his thought as universal.” In fact, the belief that the individual is the source and the repository of all social rights and human creativity was a legacy of the great eighteenth-century revolutions in the West. To …

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Description: Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics
AT THE END of his 1969 essay “What Is an Author?” Michel Foucault asked, “What difference does it make who is speaking?” He was asking readers to rethink the assumption that works of art directly communicate the meaning intended by their makers. In making this appeal, Foucault was in some ways continuing a tendency that had been a standard part of the New Critical attitude—the reigning “disinterested criticism” that Norman Lewis disparages—for nearly thirty years. But Foucault had noticed that …

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Description: Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics
A CRITIC WRITING about Perle Fine in 1945 complained that she had “not yet solved the important problem of inventing a personal style.” By 1946 she had moved from Kandinsky through Klee and Miró (fig. 87). But at the same time she was painting works like Nautical Composition Provincetown, 1946 (fig. 88), a pastiche of representational modes such as trompe-l’oeil (the rope), symbol (the stylized forms standing for water in the lower right), and nonobjective geometricity. The Guggenheim Museum’s …

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Description: Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics
LIKE MANY AFRICAN Americans of his generation, Harlan Jackson had been a youth during the Harlem Renaissance and had absorbed its respect for ancestral culture. He differs from other artists in this book in that he spent the 1940s mostly in California, coming to New York for the first time in 1949. As a student at the California School of Fine Arts, however, working in a postwar atmosphere where abstract issues were defined after 1945 by Elmer Bischoff, Hassel Smith, Clay Spohn, Minor White, and …

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Description: Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics
MOST AMERICANS DURING the 1940s—often including women—thought that women belonged at home as wives and mothers. Films such as The Snake Pit (1948) even went so far as to suggest that women’s mental health depended on their domesticity. Such thinking was a reversion to prewar attitudes about women’s proper role: in 1936, 82 percent of Americans said they thought that wives should not work if their husbands were employed. Even during the war, magazine articles that encouraged women to take wartime …

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Description: Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics
The purpose of this book is not to destroy the pleasures and benefits of contemplating canonical Abstract Expressionism, but to question certain processes on which that pleasure depends and some of the ends to which it continues to lead. Georges Bataille noted that the category of the heterogenous includes everything that homogenous society considers to be unproductive expenditure. The controlling forces in society see the heterogenous as unknowable, dangerous, shocking, other. Bataille …

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Description: Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics
To maintain an emphasis on arguments in the text, salient biographical events appear here to familiarize readers with the outlines of the lives of artists with whom they may not be familiar and to enable comparisons between prominent and lesser-known figures. Because this book focuses on the first bloom of Abstract Expressionism in the late forties, following a few cases into the early fifties, these biographies likewise pursue their subjects’ careers only to those years. Unless otherwise noted, …

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Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics
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